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Pasco v. Shaw

Saturday, November 24, 2007

There was a ruling recently by the Washington State Supreme Court, Pasco v. Shaw (.pdf), that centered around the question of whether it was a violation of both your right to privacy and to be free from unwarranted search and seizure to be forced to allow your home, which has been rented, to be searched by your landlord and/or someone he has chosen to inspect the premises.
Specifically, the city of Pasco, Washington, passed Pasco Ordinance 3231 which requires landlords to submit certification every two years ensuring that their rental units meet all applicable health, safety, and building code requirements. The certification must be signed by a city enforcement officer, a certified private inspector, or a Washington licensed private structural engineer or architect. The city passed this ordinance to help protect renters from landlords who were basically slumlords. It appears city officials felt they were facing a problem with building owners who allowed people to occupy unsafe units. To compel these businesses to bring their buildings up to a minimum safety standard, they passed this ordinance which requires a biannual building safety inspection.
Quoting from the court transcripts:
The ordinance provides that a landlord must obtain a current business license. As a condition for the issuance of a license, the landlord must provide a certificate of inspection ensuring that:the applicant's rental dwelling units comply with the standards of the Uniform Housing Code and do not present conditions that endanger or impair the health or safety of a tenant including:
(1) structural members that are insufficient in size or strength to carry imposed loads with safety;
(2) exposure of the occupants to the weather;
(3) plumbing and sanitation defects that directly expose the occupants to the risk of illness or injury;
(4) lack of water, including hot water;
(5) heating or ventilation systems that are not functional or are hazardous;
(6) defective, hazardous, or missing electrical wiring or electrical service;
(7) defective or inadequate exits that increase the risk of injury to occupants;
(8) violations that increase the risk of fire; or
(9) violations of other applicable codes, rules or regulations.
Leaving aside the argument about whether cities should rightfully require businesses to get licenses to operate within city limits, the city of Pasco placed upon rental businesses within its jurisdiction the requirement to meet building codes every two years to renew their business licenses. This is no different than the city fire marshal coming around to your business to make sure your fire extinguishers are up to date, your fire exits are clear, etc. If the marshal finds an infraction, guess what? You don't get to renew your occupancy permit until you remedy the infractions.
Continuing again with a quote from the transcript:
Landlords must provide a certificate of inspection during a preassigned three-month period every two years. The certificate must be based on the physical inspection of the dwelling not more than 90 days before the date of the certificate. Compliance must be certified by one of the following:
(1) a City of Pasco Code Enforcement Officer;
(2) inspectors certified by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development for grant-required inspections;
(3) certified private inspectors approved by the City upon evidence of completion of formal training . . . ;
(4) a Washington licensed structural engineer;
(5) a Washington licensed architect;
The city knew that they would be treading on thin ice if they required the landlord's biannual inspections be performed only by the city code enforcement officers, so they allowed other qualified inspectors to perform this task. Furthermore, they did not place a requirement on whomever performed the inspections to notify the city if they found an infraction. This allowed the building owner a chance to remedy the problem without involving the city. If everything was up to standards, the landlord would get his certification and would be allowed to renew his business license.
The Supreme Court noted that the city, in fact, created no new requirements upon landlords or tenants as far as requiring inspections for certification. They only changed the time interval. Landlords have always had the right to enter into rented units, provided he met a few enumerated requirements. Citing RCW 59.18.150 (1):
(1) The tenant shall not unreasonably withhold consent to the landlord to enter into the dwelling unit in order to inspect the premises, make necessary or agreed repairs, alterations, or improvements, supply necessary or agreed services, or exhibit the dwelling unit to prospective or actual purchasers, mortgagees, tenants, workers, or contractors.
It has been long standing law in this state, under the Residential landlord-tenant act of 1973, that landlords have a right to enter into a rented unit. He must, however, provide adequate prior notice to the tenant before entering and enter only at a reasonable time:
(5) The landlord shall not abuse the right of access or use it to harass the tenant. Except in the case of emergency or if it is impracticable to do so, the landlord shall give the tenant at least two days' notice of his or her intent to enter and shall enter only at reasonable times. The tenant shall not unreasonably withhold consent to the landlord to enter the dwelling unit at a specified time where the landlord has given at least one day's notice of intent to enter to exhibit the dwelling unit to prospective or actual purchasers or tenants. A landlord shall not unreasonably interfere with a tenant's enjoyment of the rented dwelling unit by excessively exhibiting the dwelling unit.
As you can plainly see, landlords have had the right under law to enter into a rented unit with proper notice. It is, after all, their property. They have a right to make sure their property is not being destroyed either by those paying to use it or by time and the elements. Think of it like this: in many of the Eastern states, they are required to submit to vehicle safety inspections once a year before they can renew the tags. The vehicle inspector has the right to inspect the exterior of the vehicle and only those places inside the vehicle that fall within the scope of his safety inspection. He does not have the right to rifle through your dufflebag in the back seat. Likewise, the building owner has a right to inspect or to have his building inspected by someone he hires. He does not have a right to search through his tenants personal belongings. Recognizing this need, the Residential landlord-tenant act was passed to make it clear what each others rights were.
This case is clearly addressed by RCW 59.18.150. Quite frankly, I'm surprised it was allowed to go as far as it did. The court, I feel, correctly summarized this case when it said:
We also note that RCW 59.18.150(1) already provides that a tenant cannot unreasonably withhold consent to the landlord to enter into the rental unit in order to inspect the premises, and the act allows some third parties to accompany the landlord upon entrance. In Kalmas v. Wagner, 133 Wn.2d 210, 219-20, 943 P.2d 1369 (1997), this court reasoned that if the scope of a landlord's entrance does not exceed the legitimate purposes contemplated by the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act of 1973 (RLTA), no unreasonable search has occurred. Of course, the RLTA provides some limitations to landlord entry. A landlord, accompanied by his or her chosen inspector, cannot enter without at least two days' notice to the tenant, and they must enter at a reasonable time. RCW 59.18.150(5). In addition, the inspection necessary to fulfill the requirements of the Pasco ordinance is limited to a survey for the ordinance's habitability requirements. Neither landlords nor their privately engaged inspectors are permitted to search a tenant's belongings or search for evidence of a crime. The ordinance contemplates no assistance to law enforcement in the form of uncovering any illegal acts on the part of tenants. See Swenson, 104 Wn. App. at 754. The inspection required by Pasco Ordinance 3231 does not exceed what is already allowed by the RLTA.
While I will be the first to admit our Washington Supreme Court Justices can be a little short-sighted when it comes to protecting the rights and civil liberties of Washingtonians, in this case I feel they got it spot-on.

(Un)Sound Politics?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Occasionally I pop over to the Sound Politics web site to see what the locals are up to. It always amazes me what passes as 'conservative' nowadays. Our old friend Bruce Guthrie is a regular poster over there, but I think he's tolerated more than anything. If they could outright ban him (and other like him) without catching too much flack, I think they probably would. There are others like Bruce that post there, but the point is that those espousing a more libertarian viewpoint are not necessarily welcomed with open arms.
I tend to watch my feedreader for posts about Ron Paul on their site. Generally, their posts are hit pieces to smear his name by associating him with some event he had nothing to do with, or belittling his presidential campaign. I get the impression that the majority of those that read and subscribe to Sound Politics and also call themselves conservative are more interested in keeping with the Statist quo (that's not a spelling error), than working towards more individual liberty and personal freedom and smaller government. Heck, I think some wouldn't recognize a true conservative even if they were shaking the hand of Thomas Jefferson, himself.
Which brings me to another topic: yesterday, I was listening to an internet radio show (don't remember which one) and they were talking about Ron Paul's bid for the White House. These guys claim to be Hard-Core Libertarians and one actually said he couldn't endorse Dr. Paul because Paul wasn't consistent on his non-aggression principle. Fine, I can respect that. So what? You're going to vote for the Libertarian candidate that has next to no chance of winning (let alone getting on every state's ballot)? Some movement in the direction of liberty is ALWAYS better than no movement at all.
But, it gets better. They then started to talk about some law (no, not that kind of law... the other kind) that says that all governments will collapse over time. By electing Paul as president, we're actually prolonging the inevitable. It would be far better, they said, to put in office the very worst candidate possible. That way, the end would be hastened by his recklessness. And, dammit-all-to-hell, that actually made sense! And I hate them for that ('hate' may be too strong a word). In other words, the end is coming no matter what you do. Just as death always follows birth, a constituted government will always eventually collapse over time. The best we could do is deliberately perpetuate its demise.
So, knowing this, where does that leave me with my Ron Paul for President signs and stickers? A little ticked off, I assure you, but me thinks I'll vote for him anyway. I don't have nearly enough provisions for when it gets "really bad", so if Ron Paul wins the Presidency, it'll give me at least four more years to stock up for the forthcoming doomsday. I will add that one of the talking heads on the radio did say that voting Ron Paul into office may actually be the catalyst that brings about the end to our failing democracy. He reasoned that if Paul follows through with his promise to drastically slash the size of government, he will in fact be kicking out the very foundation holding up this house of cards we call our government. Interesting logic, no?
On another note, Did you see where the GAO was able to sneak bomb-making parts past TSA screeners at 19 airports around the country? Another 'F' grade for the gate keepers. We've traded our freedom for security, and it seems we're getting exactly what we deserve in return!

British Motto Search

Friday, November 16, 2007

It seems our friends on the other side of the pond have an image problem. Or, rather, a national identity problem. They've begun a drive to find a national motto. Quoting from this Christian Science Monitor article:
Remarkably, for a country with such a rich history and distinctive national traits, there have been no formal mottos to describe the British mission statement. Until now.
Keen to redefine an increasingly diverse nation and its values, the government has launched a quest for a national maxim. Meant to be "truly representative," the motto will be arrived at by 1,000 members of the British public. This week, the BBC and the Times newspaper jump-started the process by soliciting suggestions on their websites.
The article continues with some mottos that were submitted by the public that were a bit "not on" ( the British would say):
  • Once Great: Britain
  • Americans who missed the boat
  • At least we're not French
Never one to pass up a great chance to poke fun at the lunacy of another country's government, I thought my submission would be "truly representative" and quite appropriate:
Any bets on whether the motto chosen by the British government will sound at all Orwellian? Something like "Security through Surveillance."

An Excellent Article

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Tom DeWeese has written an article that I highly recommend, PATRIOTS vs. POLITICIANS. He compares the current cadre of presidential candidates to past patriots to show why they are all bad choices, save one: Dr. Ron Paul.

Privacy Defined

Monday, November 12, 2007

Oddly enough, I just happened to sit down at my computer this morning to begin work on a mini-treatise of sorts on privacy and what it means to me--and hopefully means to all other Americans, too--when I read the following headline: Government seeks to redefine privacy. The Associated Press article explained that,

Privacy no longer can mean anonymity, says Donald Kerr, a deputy director of national intelligence. Instead, it should mean that government and businesses properly safeguards people's private communications and financial information.

Our government, the one we've instituted to safeguard all our rights, is now insisting that Americans should redefine what privacy means to them. From Mr.Kerr's comments, we're suppose to believe that privacy's definition is somehow synonymous with our anonymity. I think you would be a fool to accept his definition. Anonymity, when speaking in terms of privacy, is merely a benefit of having privacy. I'll explain this statement in a moment, but first, let's look at what Mr. Kerr is inferring.

He is basically saying that you should allow businesses that have in their possession information about you, in this case your private communications and financial information, to give the government access to that information while putting in place proper safeguards. Sounds good in theory, but as history shows us time and time again, anytime you give government carte blanche access to your information without any third-party supervision, they will abuse that authority every time. Furthermore, the Fourth Amendment to our Constitution demands that government officials seek permission from a judge, showing probable cause supported by oath or affirmation, to view your private communications and financial information. This amendment acts as a fundamental check on government to prevent it from arbitrarily abusing the people.

But what is privacy? We hear that word bandied about a lot recently, but have you ever really stopped to think about what privacy means to you? In my mind, privacy is nothing more than a description of a particular type of information. In other words, when it comes to information, your really only have two forms: public and private. Each form indicates who possesses control of the information. Information can, and rightfully should, be viewed as property, like you would view your home or your money or anything else you claim as your own. Who controls a particular piece of information determines if the information is private or public. So, to say that you want your privacy protected, what you're really saying is that you wish to remain in control of your personal information. Your personal information is your property and you have the right to control the use of that property just the same as you have the right to determine who can and cannot come into your home.

But what about anonymity? I mentioned that anonymity was a benefit of privacy. Actually, anonymity is derived from controlling who is allowed to know who owns a particular piece of information. As an example, let's say you see a wallet sitting on a table. From your vantage point, you can ascertain that it is a wallet, that it is sitting on a table, and that someone most certainly owns it. Somewhere, someone can claim the wallet as their property, but because they have chosen not to reveal themselves they can be said to have derived the benefit of anonymity from the control of their information. Now, you could probably walk over and open the wallet to discover who owns it, but in doing so you've taken unauthorized control of property that doesn't belong to you. And in doing so, you have violated their right to control who knows who owns the property, in this case the wallet. They loose the benefit of anonymity as soon as you learn who owns the wallet. Once they loose ultimate control of that knowledge, it can never be restored... short of killing you before you can tell someone else, that is.

The arguments being made that, "If you've got nothing to hide, you've got nothing to fear," or, "I've done nothing wrong, so I don't care if they listen in on my phone calls or read my emails," falls flat when personal information is viewed from a property-ownership stand point. What proponents of unfettered government surveillance are really saying is that it's okay for government to enter and ransack their homes without permission because they have nothing to hide and are doing nothing illegal. Furthermore, they're okay with government doing this to all their neighbors and everyone else in the United States, too. Obviously, for the government to do this would most definitely require a search warrant under the Fourth Amendment. Short of repealing the Fourth Amendment, there's just is no way to get around the requirement--and rightly so.

In conclusion, your personal information is your property, period. What happens to that information is entirely up to you. For anyone to take control of that information without your knowledge or consent is a violation of your property rights. It's not about privacy; it's not about anonymity; it's about retaining control over your property.

The 5th of November Remembered!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

As a follow-up to yesterday's fundraising drive for the Ron Paul campaign, I wanted to share with you how he did. It was an exciting thing to behold as the donation counter on Paul's campaign website steadily marching on all day. At one point, it was ticking off donations at over $5000 per minute. Another website,, had a chart that was tracking donations all day for this event. The total haul for the day is shown below. I've colored in the 24 hour period (all times Eastern) to make it easier to read.
Almost immediately after midnight, the donations began pouring in. Then, around 7 am ET, things exploded and never really let up until just after midnight.
A heart-felt thank you goes out to all those who contributed and made this November the 5th a day that will not soon be forgot. I also wanted to thank the guys over at for bringing us their great play-by-play commentary on the day's events. I believe the official tally for the day was around 4.2 million dollars which broke several fundraising records. That's awesome!
The Ron Paul campaign had placed a fundraising goal of 12 million dollars by the end of December. In one day, financial supporters propelled them a third of the way to their goal. Combining those numbers with what's already been collected, and you've got a grand total of over 7.2 million dollars (as of this writing).
Again, well done!

The 5th of November

Sunday, November 04, 2007

In my opinion, one of the best action movies ever made has to be V for Vendetta. There's a scene in this movie where V takes over a television station to broadcast his message of freedom to the people of London. He does this on November the 5th.

I think the best part of his speech is when he says, "[I]f you're looking for the guilty, you need only look into a mirror." In other words, the problems with their government are mostly do to the complacency of the British people.

By the way, there's something else going on this 5th of November you should know about...

Why not help out the cause by making a donation.

UPDATE: The official Ron Paul campaign website it reporting over 3 million dollars raised for the cause. To show that I put my money where my mouth is, here's a snapshot of my confirmation email...

Remember, remember...

We're Freaking Doomed!

Saturday, November 03, 2007

In the latest installment by The Mogambo Guru, Richard Daughty explains how the price of oil will be going up, up, up because the supply of oil is going down, down, down. Some of you may better know this phenomenon as Peak Oil. Coupled with this supply side problem is that the demand for oil will also be going up. Of course, what we have here is the makings for one whopper of a doozy. But, I thought it would be prudent to hitch together his latest article, The Ticking of the Oil Clock, with his previous article, Painted Rock Predicts the Dollar Index, where he explains that the dollar's value is falling faster than Bush's Congress' the U.S. government's approval ratings.
What does this mean to you and me? Well, you know that gallon of gas you just paid $3.27 for? Imagine the price for that gallon of gas being put under ever increasing pressure because of supply-side problems, i.e. "there ain't no more oil in that hole we got it out of", coupled with a dollar that's worth less today than it was yesterday. $5 a gallon? $7 a gallon? What happens when it costs more to go to work than you make going to work?
Are we freaking doomed? You bet your bottoming dollar we are!

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