Privacy and property rights advocates earned an early Christmas present last month a Superior Court judge struck down San Diego’s oppressive “mini-dorm ordinance.”
The City Council enacted the ordinance because landlords purchased single-family homes near San Diego State and renovated them to accommodate a large number of student tenants. Neighbors allege that this created parking and noise issues and disrupted the character of their community.
Judge Ronald Styn held that the ordinance is illegal because it conflicts with California law prioritizing increase affordable housing and—more importantly, from my perspective—violates tenants’ privacy and Equal Protection rights.
The ordinance’s enforcement mechanism is pretty shocking. It actually allowed city inspectors to perform surprise inspections to ensure compliance with these regulations. Think about that for a second: city inspectors were allowed immediate, unannounced, unfettered access to privately owned and occupied homes.
Would any of us stand for a law allowing city inspectors to randomly inspect our homes to monitor our water use during the drought? Or to randomly search for illegal firearms, narcotics, or other contraband? How about to ensure that our children and pets are properly cared for?
There is no way we would stand for such authoritarian witch hunts. Our privacy is sacrosanct, and the government requires more than mere good intentions to violate it. The Founders addressed this with the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. California’s constitution is even more protective, with an explicit right to privacy.
But, this ordinance targeted college students. They have no natural advocacy groups or lobbying power, so they made for easy targets. Kudos to them for not allowing themselves to get pushed around.
This isn’t to say that the issues addressed by the ordinance are meritless. Parking and noise are legitimate issues. So is housing affordability, which gave rise to these unorthodox living arrangements. There is no easy solution to these problems, but it most certainly doesn’t involve unfettered government access into private residences.
Ryan T. Darby is an attorney in San Diego who specializes in free speech law and civil litigation. He was quite a rabble-rouser as an undergrad and has a soft spot for college students’ legal rights.