Ever rented an apartment or a house? If so, you were a “social problem.” You undermined the health of your community. You caused crime and created nuisances. The fact that you did not actually commit any crimes, vandalize property or fail to pay the rent is irrelevant. Simply by being a renter you degraded the neighborhood.
This is the view of many city governments today. To them, renters are a group of second-class citizens, not people who simply rent their homes instead of own them.
In city after city across the country, governments are ratcheting up the regulation of renters and rental property. This is not traditional regulation of landlords, mandating that they treat their tenants fairly and respond to their safety needs. The regulation is ultimately directed at renters themselves. And it is frequently unconstitutional.
In countless communities, renters are being forced to submit to government inspections while owner-occupied homes are free from the prying eyes of city officials. Allegedly these inspection programs are meant to “look out for” the safety of renters, but often they are a cover for crime control. The Fourth Amendment protects all of us from searches without probable cause, but if a city slaps “rental inspection” on the search, courts frequently turn a blind eye. Under this topsy-turvy understanding of the U.S. Constitution, the government needs evidence to search a suspected criminal’s house, but does not to enter the home of an innocent tenant.
The government also places unreasonable restrictions on landlords.
For example, in some cities in Minnesota only a small percentage of homes on a block can be rented out. West Saint Paul, Minnesota bans homeowners from renting out their homes if ten percent of the homes on the block are licensed rental property. Rental bans like this can force homeowners to go into foreclosure when they have to move and can’t cover their mortgage without a renter. And fewer rental properties, in turn, can lead to higher prices and less availability. These cities don’t care that the law violates the centuries-old right to rent out property because, to them, renters are simply bad.