Legal News That You Can Use: The Case of The Unwarranted Inspection

Garfield has an ordinance that allows its “Construction Official” to make inspections to determine the condition of residential dwellings. (For those of you not familiar with municipal law

Garfield has an ordinance that allows its “Construction Official” to make inspections to determine the condition of residential dwellings. (For those of you not familiar with municipal law, “Construction Official” is a Latin terms that means “an engineer who knows a politician.”)

The ordinance allows the construction official to enter all dwellings at any reasonable time. The owner of every dwelling must give the construction official free access to the premises. An owner who fails to allow the inspection faces fines, and even incarceration.

Ellen H. owns a building in Garfield. On three occasions, a construction official demanded entry. Ellen had the nerve to request that the official obtain a search warrant first. Naturally, she was charged with violating the ordinance. The Garfield municipal court judge convicted her.  A Superior Court judge upheld the conviction on appeal.

Ellen did not give up. She appealed to the Appellate Division of the Superior Court.  A three judge panel reversed her conviction. The panel ruled that the city indeed needed a warrant to enter private premises. The only exceptions would be where an emergency or public health danger existed, where the owner gave consent, or where the inspection pertained to a highly regulated business, like liquor stores or race tracks.

It’s nice to know that we still have some privacy rights. But it’s a little scary that two lower court judges were willing to let the government trash the Constitution.


Marc S. Berman is an attorney with offices in Fair Lawn and Paramus.  Disclaimer: The articles posted here are for informational purposes only, and are not intended as legal advice for specific cases. Readers  should not act, or refrain from acting, based upon any information presented here, but rather should retain an attorney to advise them.

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B@B April 19, 2012 at 05:22 PM
Washington Twp. has this too, only it's $200. This is about one thing: revenue for the towns. They want to make sure they get their permit revenue.
Wayne's World April 19, 2012 at 05:24 PM
Susan - Wayne also requires a "continuing certificate of occupancy" for the purchaser of a home. This means that Wayne comes in and inspects the house before the transaction closes. If something isn't up to code or the seller did some work over the years without acquiring the right permits, it's time to pay the piper. I bought in Wayne a few years ago and the town forced the seller to put in a railing on the stairs leading to the basement, which the seller did very poorly. I don't know if it costs anything but a call to the town building inspector will get you the answer. Big Brother is indeed watching.
Carey Grant April 23, 2012 at 02:19 PM
Holy Cats! How could Garfield have a law on the books like that! Very scary.
Richard Zuendt April 23, 2012 at 05:01 PM
It is Garfield, trust me this is only one of the numerous laws that invade peoples rights here.
ray April 25, 2012 at 12:55 AM
illegal immigrants


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