Inspection Warrant and Abatement Warrant Requirements for Inspecting Private Property in San Bernardino County, California

By Michael Reiter, Attorney at Law

Do code enforcement officers need a warrant to inspect private property in San Bernardino County (including incorporated cities and towns in San Bernardino)?  The best practice is to obtain an administrative warrant if the owner/occupant refuses consent to inspect.  Generally, an administrative warrant is not needed if the conditions can be observed from the public right-of-way, or an adjoining property (with permission), and no physical entry onto the property occurs.

When I was a Deputy City Attorney for the City of San Bernardino, California and the Assistant City Attorney for the City of Redlands, California, a good deal of my time was spent on code enforcement.  Both cities emphasized the need for a warrant to inspect and/or abate private property when permission to inspect was denied.  As a private attorney representing private citizens and business entities, some other Inland Empire cities are not as respectful of citizen’s constitutional rights.

Generally, if consent from the property owner and the occupant cannot be obtained before entering private property that is not open to the public, code enforcement officers should obtain an administrative inspection/abatement warrant from the San Bernardino County Superior Court.  Because the United States Constitution’s Fourth Amendment gives property owners and other occupants an expectation of privacy, an inspection warrant is needed.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, in Connor v. Santa Ana, held that police officers could not legally enter fenced, private property to abate a nuisance without a warrant, even though the property owner had been provided with extensive administrative hearings.  In the absence of a property owner’s and occupant’s consent, barring exigent (emergency) circumstances, government officials engaged in the inspection of private property or abatement of a public nuisance must have a warrant to enter that private property where such entry would invade a constitutionally protected privacy interest.

The Fourth Amendment provides a high degree of privacy protection to the “curtilage” of a residence, the land immediately surrounding and associated with the residence.  However, the United States Constitution allows authorities to inspect open fields at will.  The “open fields” exception only applies to completely unfenced, unimproved property.

Therefore, code enforcement officers may visually inspect private property from the public right-of-way, or from areas that are open to the public such as parking lots, or from private property upon which the officers have obtained consent from the property owner and/or the occupant, depending on the factual circumstances.

The information you obtain at this blog is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is established by reading or commenting on this blog.  You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation.
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