ACLU: Proposed ordinance unconstitutional

By Melissa Correa - bio | email
Posted by Terry Alexander - email

CHESTERFIELD, VA (WWBT) - The ACLU recently sent a letter to Chesterfield County concerning a proposed rental inspection ordinance. It says penalizing property owners if they didn't allow inspectors in is a violation of constitutional rights.

There are more than 9,000 rental properties in Chesterfield County. Each home would be subject to an annual inspection.

"In a rental home, we'd be looking to see if that property is maintained in the condition that code required it be in when it was built. We'll be looking for safety items, surface of the walls, plumbing leaks, (and) electrical system issues," said Bill Dupler, Chesterfield County Building Inspections.

Notices like this one would give property owner's time to schedule an inspection.

"If you say no then they can penalize you. It's a misdemeanor. A class 1 misdemeanor which is up to a year in jail $2500 fine," said Kent Willis, ACLU of Virginia.

State ACLU Director Kent Willis is handling calls of concern from Chesterfield residents.

"The fourth amendment of the constitution says that the government can't enter your home without a warrant," he said.

He says the process should include administrative warrants which he says can be done fairly routinely.

"The argument would be this is in an area we've designated as blighted. It's been a year since it was inspected therefore we're justified in going in," Willis said. "We just recently received a letter from the county acknowledging what we are asking and suggesting maybe that we come up with some ideas."

Willis hopes the county doesn't vote on the ordinance before those ideas are sent back.

"If the ordinance is unconstitutional in its final form, then we are prepared to offer legal representation to a landlord or tenant in Chesterfield County who wants to challenge it in court," he said.

The next time the county could discuss this issue is next Wednesday at the board of supervisors meeting. That agenda is expected out later today.

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