October 19, 2017

Santa Barbara coerces home sellers into unconstitutional searches

REALTORS® challenge the city’s violation of Fourth Amendment rights

 

Santa Barbara, CA; October 19, 2017: The Fourth Amendment protects everyone’s privacy at home by prohibiting government searches of private property without constitutional justification. But in Santa Barbara, homes sellers are stripped of this protection. The city’s Zoning Information Report ordinance effectively requires an interior and exterior inspection of any home put on the market—even though there is no legal reason to single out these homes for investigations.

Although the city claims sellers may decline searches, they risk penalties if they do so. Under the ordinance, any seller who fails to pay the inspection fee and allow the government agents inside can be convicted of a misdemeanor and fined up to $500.

Represented free of charge by Pacific Legal Foundation, the Santa Barbara Association of REALTORS® filed a constitutional challenge today to protect local home sellers—and everyone else—from government invasion of their property and privacy rights.

“Santa Barbara singles out home sellers and coerces them into giving up their vital Fourth Amendment privacy protections,” said PLF Senior Attorney Meriem Hubbard. “They’re pressured to allow city agents to roam through their living rooms, kitchens, bedrooms, closets, and attics without any evidence that the house has any problems.

“Putting your home on the market should not mean mortgaging your constitutional rights,” she said. “Santa Barbara’s targeting of home sellers for searches and snooping must end, and the unconstitutional law that sanctions it must be struck down.”

The law requires home sellers to apply for a zoning inspection report and pay a $475 fee for the inspection process within five days of a sale agreement. The inspections are open-ended, covering a variety of city codes—even though the Zoning Department staffers who conduct them aren’t licensed as building inspectors or surveyors.

Recently, the city began allowing sellers to opt out of the searches while paying for an exterior inspection from the sidewalk or street. “This is an illusory change,” said Hubbard. “Sellers are still coerced into allowing city searches. Although they can technically refuse an inspection, the city notifies the buyer if they do so. And the ordinance remains unchanged. It still provides for criminally prosecuting and fining people who sell their homes without allowing the government inspectors in.”

“On behalf of the community’s homeowners, the Santa Barbara Association of REALTORS® has attempted to work with city officials for years on Zoning Information Report concerns, but the flawed ordinance remains unchanged,” said David Kim, the association’s president. “Homeowners must still submit to unjustified searches. Therefore, we filed suit to protect the constitutional rights of the people of Santa Barbara.”

“Pacific Legal Foundation defends individual liberty, a core component of which is freedom from unconstitutional government intrusion on one’s property and privacy,” said PLF President and CEO Steven D. Anderson. “Securing this fundamental Fourth Amendment protection requires determination and vigilance, and we look forward to vindicating this vital principle.”

More information can be found at: pacificlegal.org/SantaBarbara.

Case Documents

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About Pacific Legal Foundation

Pacific Legal Foundation is a national nonprofit legal organization that defends Americans threatened by government overreach and abuse. Since our founding in 1973, we challenge the government when it violates individual liberty and constitutional rights. With active cases in 39 states plus Washington, D.C., PLF represents clients in state and federal courts, with 11 victories out of 13 cases heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

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