A group of landlords and tenants are taking the town of Kent to court, claiming its licensing code which requires property inspections is “unconstitutional”.
Several people are named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit, including owner Bernie Noble whose experiences are used as examples in the lawsuit.
In a statement to the Record-Courier, the complainant said the city’s property inspection program was “an aggressive government overrun.” More importantly, they said, the program violates the tenants’ right to privacy in their own homes.
Kent landlords and tenants are subject to the licensing requirements set out in Kent Codified Ordinances. According to the code, no one can own or operate residential rental accommodation without a current housing permit. After requesting and paying a fee, these units must be inspected by the city’s director of community development before a permit is granted.
If a unit is found to be non-compliant or is without a housing permit for more than 30 days, the city may condemn the unit.
“Without a search warrant, officials in Kent are pushing their way to private homes in which they are not allowed to be,” the plaintiffs’ statement said. “They are threatening tenants and landlords with stiff fines if they are not allowed in to inspect private homes.”
According to the complaint, in January 2020, the city sent Noble a license application package to complete for each of its rental homes. He filled it out and paid the processing fees. But then Noble and his tenants refused to schedule inspections.
In October 2020, Noble received a warning letter stating that he would receive citations if he continued to fail to comply. A month later, he was billed $ 900 in fines and a civil violation citation notice was posted on his properties, according to the lawsuit.
According to the lawsuit, the plaintiffs say the city did not receive any complaints about any of Noble’s properties or believed that an emergency existed to warrant a warrantless inspection. The city also did not offer to obtain an administrative warrant. Rather, according to the complaint, Kent attempted to “coerce” Noble and his tenants to consent.
Other complainants claim to have had similar experiences.
The plaintiffs say the city has policies that threaten them with inspections of their homes without probable cause, violate their reasonable expectations of privacy and are retaliating against them for failing to schedule inspections by assessing fines and threatening to condemn and possibly remove houses.
“We all want safe and affordable housing for the residents of Kent,” the plaintiffs said. “At this point, the landlords in this lawsuit have not received any trespassing from Kent in their decades of providing housing. The city has several other avenues to enforce violations without this unconstitutional trespass. of peoples’ rights. “
In its response to the lawsuit, the city says it has the right under federal and state law to engage in self-government, which allows cities to define the authority of their government. local.
Legal counsel for the plaintiffs and the Town of Kent declined requests for comment.
A preliminary injunction was granted by the court in early June. The injunction temporarily prevented the city from scheduling home inspections for the plaintiffs’ properties, labeling plaintiff owners who had not registered them as “offending owners,” fining them for doing so and collecting fines in any way. it would be.
In mid-September, plaintiffs called for the city to be held in contempt of court for failing to obey a court order issued in late August obliging discovery requests.
The city responded to requests for discovery nine days later.
Earlier court documents also indicated that the town of Kent had failed to respond to the plaintiffs’ request for a binding discovery order within a set time limit. Because they did not respond within the allotted time, the court ordered him to comply and also pay the plaintiffs’ lawyer $ 200.
The plaintiffs also claimed that Kent violated the injunction by fining plaintiff MarketPlace Rentals after being ordered not to do so.
“Kent’s taxpayer money is wasted and the citizens deserve to know it,” the plaintiffs said.
A status conference is scheduled for October 13.
Contact reporter Kaitlyn with Kent news by email at [email protected] or on Twitter at @kaitlynmcg_rc.