Spitzer Sues Long Island Village For Unconstitutional And Discriminatory Housing Code Inspections Of Latino Homes
Attorney General Spitzer today filed a federal lawsuit against the Village of Freeport, Long Island, alleging that Village housing inspectors violated constitutional "search and seizure" rules and anti-discrimination laws in conducting housing code inspections of Latino residents' homes. The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Long Island, seeks significant reform of the Village's housing code enforcement scheme, including new rules to protect residents from illegal inspections.The lawsuit follows an 18-month-long investigation by the Attorney General's office of complaints from Latino residents that, since the early 1990s, the Village of Freeport engaged in a pattern of unlawful and unconstitutional conduct in its enforcement of the housing codes. The OAG's lawsuit alleges violations of the U.S. Constitution's prohibitions on unreasonable searches and seizures and national origin discrimination, the federal Fair Housing Act, and state law. Specifically, the lawsuit alleges that, as part of a program to stamp out "overoccupancy" problems in the Village, inspectors bullied their way into Latino residents' homes, failed to obtain valid consent from residents or a valid warrant before searching, used deceptive and illegal tactics to gain entry, used the presence of emergency service personnel in Latino homes to obtain access into those homes in order to conduct wide-ranging inspections. The AG's complaint cites a host of examples of this conduct in recent years, including instances where:
- Village housing inspectors pushed their way into Latino homes without cause, without a warrant and without resident consent, in the face of clearly articulated objections by homeowners;
- Village housing inspectors took advantage of the presence of children to gain access to Latino homes without consent, and without an otherwise sufficient legal basis;
- Village housing inspectors entered Latino residents' homes by entering through unlocked doors, without a warrant or consent, as the law requires. In many cases, confronted by residents when already inside their homes, the inspectors informed them that the inspections were "mandatory";
- Village housing inspectors made false statements that they had obtained consent to search, in order to deceive Latino families and thereby gain entry into their homes to conduct inspections;
- After being summoned to Latino families' homes by police officers who were there on emergency service calls (domestic dispute complaints, ambulance calls, and the like), Village inspectors conducted wide-ranging searches that went beyond the areas within which a search would be proper. In one case, housing inspectors called in by police searched the entire home of a Latino family and photographed a young woman who had just emerged from the shower wearing only a towel.