Red Wing Rental Inspections

Robert McCaughtry, et al. v. City of Red Wing
Mandatory Inspections of Rental Property: Is Your Rented Home Your Castle?


IJ clients from left to right: Kim Sjostrom, Brad Sonnentag, Robert McCaughtry and Rebecca McCaughtry

The city of Red Wing, Minn. is enforcing a rental property inspection law that requires landlords and tenants to open their doors and submit to inspections of their private property in order for the landlord to receive a license to rent the property.

Under Red Wing’s rental inspection ordinance, it is easier for the government to force its way into the homes of law-abiding citizens than it is to search the home of a suspected criminal. But the U.S. and Minnesota constitutions protect everyone, not just criminals. Red Wing’s inspection mandate is unconstitutional. To protect landlords, tenants and, ultimately, everyone against unreasonable searches, the Institute for Justice Minnesota Chapter filed two lawsuits in Goodhue County District Court in Red Wing, Minn., under the U.S. and Minnesota constitutions to stop the city of Red Wing from conducting involuntary inspections without probable cause and also to ensure that constitutional standards govern residential inspections.

Red Wing’s rental inspection program has been in place for five years. During that time, inspectors have searched the rental homes of hundreds of residents, going into their closets, looking under their beds, and inspecting their bathroom cabinets. They have required “correction” of terrifying health and safety hazards like “a dirty stovetop,” a damaged bedroom doorstop and a bathroom door without a lock. After losing two attempts to get warrants to search rental homes without tenant and landlord consent, the city enacted a more limited program. Now inspectors don’t go into medicine cabinets or refrigerators. The most recent court decision seems to eliminate closets and cabinets as well, but inspectors still go into every room and still have access to all the personal information one can tell about a person from entering their living room, bathroom and bedroom. It is time for Minnesota courts to uphold the rights of ordinary residents to exclude unwanted visitors from their homes.

These inspection programs are popping up like weeds all over Minnesota, and similar laws are appearing everywhere from California to Indiana to Pennsylvania. Red Wing has become the flashpoint in a nationwide battle to protect privacy and the freedom from unreasonable searches, as well as to ensure administrative warrants do not become the tool of choice for governments trying to enter people’s homes.

On May 31, 2013, the Minnesota Supreme Court issued a decision where it failed to answer the ultimate question of whether the government needs a warrant backed by evidence to enter a tenant’s home.  Instead, it ruled the question was not properly before it, leaving it for another day.  However, Justice Paul Anderson authored a concurring opinion where he stated that when the court does answer the question it should rule that warrants that are not backed by evidence—like those Red Wing has repeatedly applied for—are unconstitutional.  Since that ruling Red Wing has not decided whether to go forward to again seek these warrants.


Essential Background


Background on this case

Client Photo - none available

Client Video - Red Wing Inspection Case Goes to MN Supreme Court

Latest Release: Minnesota Supreme Court Decides to “No Call” Whether Minnesotans’ Homes are Safe from Government Agents (May 31, 2013)

Legal Briefs and Decisions

Minnesota Supreme Court opinion, including Justice Paul Anderson concurrence (May 31, 2013) 

Reply Brief (November 13, 2012)

Opening brief in the Minnesota Supreme Court argument (September 20, 2012)

Launch Release: Institute for Justice Minnesota Chapter Challenges Red Wing’s Unconstitutional Rental Home Searches (November 15, 2006)

Opinion affirming district court's ruling (June 11, 2012)

Court Opinion (December 28, 2011)

Reply Brief (April 14, 2011)

Opening Appellants' Brief (February 2011)
Petition for Review (October 28, 2010)
Tenant and Landlord Plaintiffs’ Appellate Reply Brief (May 4, 2010)
Appellants' Brief
Order denying Red Wing’s third application for an administrative warrant (12/28/09)

Plaintiff's memorandum of law in support of partial summary judgment

Judge Bibus' decision denying City access to client rental properties

City's Amended Ordinance

Petition for Review (July 11, 2012)

Video: Minnesota Supreme Court oral argument (February 5, 2013)

Case Timeline

Filed Lawsuit:

November 15, 2006

Court Filed:

Goodhue County District Court



Awaiting Red Wing’s decision on whether to continue warrant applications

Additional Releases

Maps, Charts and Facts

Release: Minnesota Supreme Court to Rule on Unwanted Rental Home Searches (August 21, 2012)

Release: Red Wing Tenants and Landlords Ask Minnesota Supreme Court To End Abusive System of Administrative Warrants (July 11, 2012)

Map: Inspection Laws Nationwide by State

Release: Minnesota Appeals Court Rules Government May Enter Rental Homes Even without Evidence Anything is Wrong (June 11, 2012)

Release: Minnesota Supreme Court Rules for Property Owners/Renters In Red Wing Challenge (December 28, 2011)

Op-eds, News Articles and Links

Release: Minnesota Supreme Court Hears Case to Decide If Landlords and Tenants May Challenge Law Authorizing Rental Home Searches Without Probable Cause (May 2, 2011) Article: John Monroe: Red Wing's rental inspections represent an end-run around our constitutions Pioneer Press (March 3, 2010)
Release: Red Wing Tenants & Landlords in Inspection Case File Opening Brief with Minnesota Supreme Court (February 23, 2011) Article: IJ 3, Red Wing O in Property Rights Battle Liberty & Law (February 2010)
Release: Red Wing Tenants and Landlords Appeal Inspection Case To Minnesota Supreme Court (December 27, 2010) Article: Search and Destroy Constitutional Rights; Liberty & Law (August 2008)
Release: Red Wing Tenants and Landlords Appeal Inspection Case To Minnesota Supreme Court (October 29, 2010) Article: Judge rebuffs city’s rental inspections, Redwing Eagle, (September 2007) 
Release: Minnesota Court of Appeals Slams the Courthouse Door In the Face of Red Wing Tenants and Landlords; Plaintiffs Vow Appeal to Minnesota Supreme Court (September 28, 2010) Article: Fighting Small-Town Tyranny in Minnesota, Liberty & Law, (February 2007)
Release: Red Wing Tenants and Landlords Ask Minnesota Supreme Court to End Abusive System of Administrative Warrants (February 23, 2010)

Release: Minnesota Court Declares Red Wing’s Rental Inspection Program Unconstitutional (December 29, 2009)

Release: With Filing of Motion for Summary Judgment, Institute for Justice Tells City of Red Wing: Get a Valid Warrant or Get Out of People’s Homes (April 1, 2009)

Release: Red Wing Considers Yet Another Round of Inadequate Changes to Rental Inspection Law (October 9, 2008)
Release: Minnesota Court Rejects Red Wing’s Requests To Inspect Homes; City Ordinance Has “No Apparent Restrictions To Deal With Legitimate Modern Privacy Concerns” (May 21, 2008)

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