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Ohio Cities Cannot Prohibit Use of Security Alarms

Cincinnati’s “alarm tax” violates homeowners’ right to communicate, freedom from double-taxation

The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law has moved to invalidate a municipal ordinance that forbids homeowners from protecting themselves with a home security alarm unless they first pay a punitive tax to the City of Cincinnati.

The legal action against the City of Cincinnati is brought on behalf of several homeowners and real estate investors who face $800 fines for simply using home security alarms to protect their homes, rental properties, and vacant investment properties, i.e. calling the police to inform them of potential criminal activity at the property.

Through its Motion for Preliminary Injunction, the 1851 Center explains that the City’s ordinance violates the Freedom of Speech by restraining and punishing the truthful reporting of criminal conduct while also impermissibly double-taxing homeowners who already pay for police protection through their general taxes:

The Ohio Constitution protects homeowners’ fundamental right to defend themselves and their houses, and cities cannot force homeowners to pay the City prior to exercising this right, especially when police assistance is not requested.

Speech in defense of oneself and one’s property is just as vital to protect as political speech. Homeowners maintain a First Amendment right to share evidence of criminal conduct on their properties with law enforcement, whether directly or through hiring an alarm company.

Cincinnati’s “alarm fee” is an unconstitutional tax because the City spends it on anything it likes, annually collects more than twice what it spends on security alarm issues, and the fees are imposed irrespective of whether homeowners with alarms actually use more city services.

“Ohio cities’ new practice of forcing homeowners to pay a fee for the privilege of protecting themselves, their families, and their homes with a security alarm is not just an unconstitutional tax, but an outright scam, taxing those who report crime and forcing taxpayers to pay twice for police protection,” explained 1851 Center Executive Director Maurice Thompson. “Government should encourage self-defense and crime-reporting, rather than prohibiting such socially beneficial conduct.”

The City of Cincinnati demands $100 up-front before one may use a security alarm, and those who protect themselves with security alarms without paying the fee are fined up to $800. This prohibition applies even to “local alarms” that do not involve police.

The case is pending before Judge Michael Barrett of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio. However, the 1851 Center has moved to remand the case to state court

Read the 1851 Center’s Motion for Preliminary Injunction HERE.

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Victory: Ohio Cities’ “Pre-Sale” Home Inspections and Fees Unconstitutional

City of Oakwood violated homeowners Fourth Amendment rights through sweeping city-wide  home inspection requirements and must now return in section fees to all affected homeowners

February 9, 2018: Dayton, OH – A federal court late yesterday declared unconstitutional the City of Oakwood’s pre-sale inspections mandates – – mandates requiring homeowners to obtain and pass thorough government inspection before being permitted to sell their homes.  The court also certified a class of all homeowners who were subject to the mandates and paid a $60 inspection fee at anytime over the past six years

The 40 page ruling, by Judge Thomas M. Rose of the Southern District of Ohio, firmly rejects the lawfulness of pre-sale inspections, sometimes also referred to as “point of sale” mandates, and paves the way for the return of inspections fees to all affected homeowners, rather than just those who filed the lawsuit

Specifically, the Court’s decision ruled and explained as follows:

  • “Oakwood’s ordinance violated Plaintiffs’ Fourth Amendment rights by subjecting them to a warrantless search without valid consent.”
  • “The Court agrees that an Oakwood property owner could not have provided voluntary consent under the prior ordinance because failure to do so could result in denial of a certificate of occupancy and a criminal penalty . . . A person cannot provide such uncontaminated consent when refusal to do so empowers the municipal authority to deny him the right to sell his property.”
  • “Plaintiffs have established Oakwood’s liability on their claim for unjust enrichment and restitution here. Plaintiffs paid the $60 fee to Oakwood for the inspection of their property. It would be inequitable to allow Oakwood to retain that money when it was collected pursuant to an unconstitutionally coercive ordinance.”

Judge Rose’s decision certifies classes of all individuals or businesses that have been subject to the inspections and paid inspection fees to the City in conjunction with the inspections.

“Local governments do not have unlimited authority to force entry into Ohioans’ homes.  To the contrary ‘houses’ are one of the types of property specifically mentioned by the Fourth Amendment; and Ohioans have every moral and constitutional entitlement to exclude others, even government bureaucrats, from their property,” said Maurice Thompson, Executive Director of the 1851 Center.  “The right to own property in Ohio has little value if local governments are permitted to stop the sale of one’s home to a willing buyer.”

“Class action litigation is an excellent method for average citizens to even the playing field when fighting back against their corrupt and otherwise indifferent local governments.  This ruling confirms that Ohio cities must be held just as responsible to their citizens and big corporations are to their customers,” added Thompson.

Such municipal ordinances, in addition to restricting Ohioans’ property rights, subject homeowners to open-ended warrantless searches of every interior and exterior space of a home, violating the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Section 14, Article I of the Ohio Constitution.

Accordingly, in May of 2016, the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law moved to immediately enjoin Ohio cities, and the Cities of Bedford and Oakwood in particular, from enforcing “point of sale” and “pre-sale” programs that require citizens to endure and pass arbitrary and warrantless government inspections before they can sell their homes to even the most informed and willing buyers.

In each case, the Cities had threatened to criminally prosecute and even imprison homeowners if sold their homes without first submitting to and passing city inspections.

The legal action against Oakwood was filed on behalf of area real estate investor Jason Thompson, who was told by the City that he would face jail time for transferring a home he owns into a Limited Liability Company he created without first having paid for, obtained, and passed a pre-sale inspection.

This lawsuit is brought in partnership with the Finney Law Firm in Cincinnati.

Read the Court’s Order HERE

Listen to Maurice Thompson discuss the 4th Amendment:

​Watch our video discussing this case:

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Forbidding More Than Three People from Living Together Violates Ohio Constitution 

Ohio cities violate property rights by prohibiting more than three unrelated people from living in the same home

February 5, 2018: Bowling Green, OH – The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law today moved to strike a municipal ordinance that criminalizes greater than three unrelated individuals living in the same home regardless of the size of the home.

The action is filed against the City of Bowling Green on behalf of 23 Bowling Green landlords and three student tenants threatened with eviction.  The landlords own over 161 homes that, despite four or more bedrooms and ample parking, may not be occupied by greater than three unrelated people.

Through its Motion for Preliminary Injunction, the 1851 Center explains that the City’s ordinance, which imposes a $500 per day fine, is violates the Ohio Constitution through suppressing private property rights and equal protection and imposing vague standards and excessive fines:

  • As in other states that have invalidated such occupancy limits, the Ohio Constitution is more protective of private property rights and equal protection than the federal constitution.
  • While the regulation professes to limit population density, many homes in the City are exempt from the rule, while there are no similar occupancy limits on related individuals.
  • The regulation is unconstitutionally vague, insofar as the City maintains no list of which properties are exempt, and regulates houses based upon whether or not they were “designed for single family use.”
  • Fine of $162,500 per year for permitting four individuals to live in a four-bedroom home is patently excessive.

“In Ohio, many zoning regulations needlessly interfere with private property rights, drive up the cost of living, fail to accomplish their proclaimed purposes, and are used as political weapons – – often to benefit special interests or suppress disfavored minorities.  This regulation is no different,” explained 1851 Center Executive Director Maurice Thompson.  “However, there is no coherent reason why four missionaries should be prohibited from occupying a large six bedroom house, even as an unruly family of eight lives in a smaller home next door.”

The 1851 Center draws a distinction between zoning regulations that prohibit homeowners from using their property to directly inflict harm on others and regulations simply aimed at social engineering.

“This regulation is aimed at government-controlled social engineering, i.e. keeping ‘the wrong kind of people’ out of certain neighborhoods, rather than land use. Unruly behavior should be directly regulated, rather than regulated on the basis of the relationships between those who live together,” added Thompson.  “Ohioans should not be forced to pay higher rent or endure longer commutes due to such arbitrary regulations.”

The case is pending before Judge Zouhary in the Western Division of the Northern District of Ohio.  The Judge has issued a temporary standstill order.

Read the 1851 Center’s Complaint HERE.

Read the 1851 Center’s Motion for Preliminary Injunction HERE.

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The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law is a non-profit, non-partisan legal center dedicated to protecting the constitutional rights of Ohioans from government abuse. The 1851 Center litigates constitutional issues related to property rights, regulation, taxation, and search and seizures.

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Sixth Circuit: State Cannot Inspect Ohioans’ Business Records without Warrant

Fourth Amendment prohibits state’s mandate making all business records “available at all times” to state agents

January 22, 2018: Columbus, OH – A federal circuit court late yesterday ruled that Ohio’s policies demanding private business records – – without a warrant or any evidence of wrongdoing – – violate the Fourth Amendment’s protection from unreasonable searches and seizures.

The ruling, made by a unanimous panel of the Sixth Circuit and authored by Judge David McKeague, addresses regulations governing those purchasing gold, silver, and other precious metals under the Precious Metals Dealers Act (“PMDA”).

However, its impact is likely to far exceed just the PMDA. Many Ohio businesses, particularly those requiring government licensing, face materially identical mandates. Accordingly, the ruling paves the way for Ohio businesses, even if heavily licensed and regulated, to protect their privacy and property, especially when such demands are made on-the-spot and without a warrant.

In a 23 page decision, the three-judge panel struck down a statute declaring “all books, forms, and records, and all other sources of information with regard to the business shall at all times be available for inspection,” and another demanding “free access to the books and papers and other sources of information with regard to the business.”

The Court explained as follows:

  • “Business owners cannot be forced to choose between being arrested on the spot and standing on their Fourth Amendment rights.”
  • “[The challenged statutes] are both unnecessary to furthering Ohio’s state interest and too broad in scope to withstand facial Fourth
  • Amendment scrutiny . . . both statutes effectively allow searches of dealers’ entire businesses . . . They therefore do not provide any standards to guide inspectors in the exercise of their authority to search.”
  • “The provisions’ seemingly unlimited scope, along with the grant of free access to such information at all times, does not sufficiently constrain the discretion of the inspectors.”

“This ruling essentially affirms that while government may request some basic record-keeping, reporting, and inspection of inventory purchased from the public that has been reported stolen, state officials cannot walk into a business without a warrant or evidence of wrong-doing and demand to review our papers, cell phones, laptops, or other business records,” said Maurice Thompson, Executive Director of the 1851 Center. “No entrepreneur deserves to be arrested for questioning the authority of a state agent to show up at his business unannounced, without any evidence of wrongdoing, and confiscate or filter through these records.”

Thompson added “this precedent will guard warrantless searches of business records in all industries, since the Court of Appeals decision acknowledged that even ‘closely regulated’ industries are entitled to greater protection. Ohioans should feel free to decline invasive and costly government searches without fear of retaliation.”

The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law took up the case in 2012 on behalf of Liberty Coins, a coin dealer of Delaware, Ohio, and Worthington Jewelers, a retail jeweler in Worthington, Ohio. Each balked at the prospect of losing their business licenses and being fined and prosecuted for refusing to turn over cell phones, laptops, and paper records simply “upon demand” of state enforcement agents.

Read the Court’s Order HERE.

Listen to the Oral Argument HERE.

Read the Brief HERE.

Watch our video describing the impact of this case:

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The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law is a non-profit, non-partisan legal center dedicated to protecting the constitutional rights of Ohioans from government abuse. The 1851 Center litigates constitutional issues related to property rights, voting rights, regulation, taxation, and search and seizures.