Get Guidance for Legally Entering Private Property

The League has released a new information memo that explains how and when a city may legally enter private property if an owner refuses to allow it. A recent Minnesota Supreme Court case featured in the memo explains the procedures that a city must follow to get a search warrant allowing the city to enter private property.

—Download the memo: Administrative Search Warrants (pdf)

Here are a couple of examples of when the city might need an administrative search warrant:

  • A building in the city is so old and decrepit it’s about to collapse. The council is ready to act, but the owner will not allow anyone to enter this private property.
  • Rental property in your city is due for a scheduled inspection, but a landlord refuses to allow the inspector into the building.

How does the city proceed in these situations? Read the Administrative Search Warrants memo to find out.

Exceptions

There are situations in which cities do not need a warrant to enter private property. As the memo notes, exceptions to the need for a search warrant include a fire or fallen power lines.

There is also the “plain view” exception in which a city may not need a search warrant if city personnel can plainly see a violation of local ordinance from a public location.

Respecting constitutional rights

Understanding how and when to use administrative search warrants is important because, as the memo lays out, both the U.S. and Minnesota Constitution safeguard the privacy and security of individuals against arbitrary invasions by government officials.

While there are times when a city must enter private property in the interest of public safety, knowing how to go about doing that is crucial. Mistakes may be costly. If a court finds that a city entered private property with no warrant and no permission, in violation of a person’s property rights, the city may be liable for civil rights claims, trespass claims, and even attorneys’ fees.

Situations on private property can sometimes pose a threat to public safety. Necessary fire inspections, houses full of junk, and diseased trees are just a few examples. This memo spells out how a city may legally enter private property to protect the public even when an owner refuses to allow it. If such a situation occurs in your city, the new Administrative Search Warrants memo provides you a place to start researching your options.

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