The city of Independence is scheduled to start a rental inspection program June 1, though some landlords would prefer it gets repealed rather than implemented.

Some of those landlords voiced their objections Monday to the City Council, calling the scheduled “Rental Ready” program unconstitutional because it violates the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches.

City officials insist the ordinance for the program would stand up legally and that developing and implementing Rental Ready is a key component to five-year Strategic Plan, which the council developed in large part from citizen feedback and approved Monday.

With Rental Ready, units will be inspected once every two years by qualified private inspectors contracted by the city, capped at $50 per inspection – and any needed re-inspections – paid to the inspector. Any building with more than four units on a single property that share common walls and/or common floors and ceilings must have 10 percent of the total number of units inspected.

The inspection would check for things such as exposed electrical wires, debris around a water heater or furnace, properly working outlets/switch covers and sanitary drainage system, rodent/insect infestation and animal or human waste – basic human health and safety things, the city has said.

Landlords would not be able to obtain a business license, and thus rent out units, without passing the inspection(s). Any rental unit that has been inspected for any reason within the previous 12 months could be submitted for approval.Currently, interior inspections of rentals are complaint-driven. Exterior inspections already are handled by the city's code enforcement workers, mainly on a complaint basis.

Landlord Howard Adams listed multiple court cases he said covered searches like those the city will require.

“The landlord cannot override the tenant's objection and give permission to the unlawful search,” he said, quoting one court decision. “The only way is if the government can show that no less intrusive method exists to obtain the result.”

The threat to not renew the business license is coercion, he added, and thus shouldn't be allowed.

“The current system does work,” he said, “making these invasions unnecessary.”

Kenneth Love said he's already lost three good tenants because they didn't want to be subject to the inspection program.

“They're not going to be a part of anybody invading their privacy,” he said.

Love also said he's concerned that, after talking to one of the contracted inspectors, a rental unit might be inspected by an unqualified person the inspector hires to work for him.

“When one group of people's rights are violated, it is a threat to all of us,” Martha Hamm said, adding that many of her tenants are on fixed low incomes. “It's a direct attack on the poor, disabled and mentally ill in our community.”

Hamm also openly wondered if the inspection fee wouldn't become like the city's annual business license fee that rose from $25 to $50.

“The rental property is not a business,” she said. “The Internal Revenue Service considers it an investment. Once it begins, it will continue to be more invasive and expensive for everyone.”

Mayor Eileen Weir said citizens had asked the city to do something about the overall quality of rental properties, and customer service and quality of life are two of the four chief goals in the Strategic Plan. Continued feedback could result in the ordinance being tweaked before or after the inspection program starts.

“What the ordinance did was allow us to develop a plan, to make a decision as a council to say, 'We're responding to the community,'” Weir said. “The implementation continues to be developed.

“Citizens have demanded that we do something, and how that is carried out will require the participation of our community.”

City Manager Zach Walker said Dayla Bishop Schwartz, the city attorney, put plenty of research and time into checking with other cities who started rental inspection programs and what would be allowed based on court decisions.

“We did a tremendous amount of due diligence on this,” he said. “We believe we have an ordinance that addresses basic health and safety issues and meets the minimum standards of what the court would allow.”