Do City Officials have the right to Enter Homes
The term, probable cause, is of utmost importance to determine if city officials should have the right to inspect a person’s home or living conditions inside their own homes. But then we have to determine what constitutes probable cause.
If you are concerned about a neighbor’s well-being you should notify the police and request a welfare check. This is important if the neighbor is normally active; you usually witness them as they work in their yard, carry out the trash, walk to their mailbox, or just drop in for coffee. Then, suddenly all activity ceases and you don’t see them for a few days. You have probable cause to suspect that something is amiss.
If this neighbor has family nearby, call them immediately and convey your concerns. If they have no family living in the same town, or if you do not know their family situation by all means, notify the authorities, and hopefully your city will follow through on the welfare check. This action on you part in conjunction with the city officials action might be responsible for a good outcome in a life or death situation.
If your neighbor is a recluse, and you know that the living conditions are hazardous, not only to their health and welfare, but to the entire neighborhood as well, you must report the situation to the proper authorities. You see signs of filth in the yard, there is garbage and trash lying everywhere, rats and mice are evident, and an overpowering odor permeates the area. Perhaps your neighbor has suffered an accident or a health problem and is unable to help themselves. These living conditions must be checked thoroughly by the city officials or the health department. That would constitute probable cause in most circumstances.
If you suspect that a child is being molested or abused, you must report that fact to the proper authorities. You suspicions alone are not probably cause, but an investigation must begin at once for the child’s sake. You will need to rely on the authorities to find the proof to justify your suspicions. If they find more evidence for than against your belief, they must intervene with ‘reasonable cause,’ which is a basis for lawful searches. Never turn a deaf ear or a blind eye to the possibility that a child is in danger. You may be labeled as a meddler but a child’s life may be saved in the process.
Do you suspect that there is a drug house in your neighborhood? Most people do not want to get involved when it comes to illegal drugs, and for good reason. Some who do get involved, are victims of retaliation. Drive-by shootings, beatings, vandalism, and arson are the payment in some instances for trying to be a good neighborhood watchman. Yet, doing nothing about it can be dangerous to you, your family, and your good neighbors.
Most cities have crime-stoppers or drug-stoppers where you can report the activity anonymously. Then, once again it is up to the city officials to follow through. If their investigation, usually undercover, discovers that your tip was founded, they can use probable or reasonable cause as the basis for their entrance into the house for a personal or property search.
The city should not be able to enter and search a house on a hunch, or an ungrounded suspicion. Some people are very unpopular with city hall. They may take a stand with which the city commission or city council disagrees. They may voice their opinions openly in letters to the editors or at council meetings, and the amount of enemies they make may far outnumber those counted as their friends, but this is American, and at this date, we still have the freedom of speech.
There have been instances where cities have used trumped-up charges against those who disagree and they will harass them, and sometimes intrude into their homes. They try to make life as miserable as possible for those labeled as trouble makers, but that is where probable cause comes into play. Do not believe that all city officials, all policemen, all politicians are honest. Many of them are power-hungry and will use devious means to search and arrest anyone they deem as their enemy.
If the home owner feels they have been the victim of prejudice because of their beliefs, their sexual preferences, their gender, or their race; they should retain an attorney and make the city prove probable cause. Otherwise an illegal search could echo Nazi Germany of the 1930-40 era.
When the welfare of a person or the entire neighborhood is in jeopardy, and the entrance into a home is for the benefit of all, the authorities should have the right to enter and inspect the home and the living conditions involved within those walls. To do otherwise would be criminal neglect, but they must use caution and have probable cause. Your neighbor may be the most offensive person for miles around, but that in itself is not a criminal offense, not in America.