Private Property Owners Should Require the Government to Obtain a Civil Inspection Warrant

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Many counties and cities in California are taking an increasingly aggressive approach to inspections of property for alleged code violations. Often based on anonymous “tips” these government agencies will show up unannounced and ask to inspect and photograph private property. If the owner consents, no warrant is needed.

However, owners should not consent to an inspection without insisting that the government obtain a civil inspection warrant under California Code of Civil Procedure section 1822.56. Yes, the government is required to obtain a warrant even if no criminal activity is suspected. This statute was adopted by the California legislature in the late 1960’s in response to an important United States Supreme Court decision in Camara v. San Francisco. In that case the Court held that the government is required to obtain a warrant under the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution before it can insist on inspection of private property for building code violations.

Section 1822.56 provides:

An inspection pursuant to this warrant may not be made between 6 p.m. of
any day and 8 a.m. of the succeeding day, nor in the absence of an owner
or occupant of the particular place, dwelling, structure, premises, or
vehicle unless specifically authorized by the judge upon a showing that
such authority is reasonably necessary to effectuate the purpose of the
regulation being enforced. An inspection pursuant to a warrant shall not
be made by means of forcible entry where facts are shown sufficient to
create a reasonable suspicion of a violation of a state or local law or
regulation relating to building, fire, safety, plumbing, electrical,
health, labor, or zoning, which, if such violation existed, would be an
immediate threat to health or safety, or where facts are shown
establishing that reasonable attempts to serve a previous warrant have
been unsuccessful. Where prior consent has been sought and refused,
notice that a warrant has been issued must be given at least 24 hours
before the warrant is executed, unless the judge finds that immediate
execution is reasonably necessary in the circumstances shown.

Every property owner in California should be familiar with this section, especially if land is developed with older structures and uses that predate current county or city building code provisions. A warrant is required with advance notice to the owner, and the presence of the owner is required. Also, the inspection cannot be made forcibly without court approval.

The attorneys at Kassouni Law are currently seeking US Supreme Court review of a case which addresses the civil inspection warrant requirements, and the impermissible use of forcible entry. Stay tuned.

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