There is an important property rights case being argued in an Alberta court next month that I think we should all pay attention to. If the government wins the case, you may have to put a chair against your door when you take a shower to make sure an agent of the state doesn’t enter your property unannounced.
This peculiar case involves landlords Robert Li and Lily Wang. They had a problem with a health inspector involving one of their properties. It got resolved. But it appears the health inspector used this incident as a pretext to enter all 10 of their other properties, fishing for violations.
Now, if a landlord is creating a hazardous condition for their tenants, I say throw the book at them. When you sign an agreement with someone to inhabit and use your property, you are obligated to follow the law and ensure their living space is safe. If there is a credible reason to suspect a property is unsafe, by all means, get a warrant and inspect it. If a tenant complains about the state of a property, they should be able to call an inspector directly and have them come in to check it out.
But you can’t have health inspectors declaring they are above the law and that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms doesn’t apply to them.
That appears to be what happened in this case, according to a written argument the landlords have filed in court. It says inspectors from Alberta Health Services have told the court they are entitled to enter any rental property without the permission of either the landlord or the tenant, without notice, without a warrant, without any evidence of reasonable grounds, because they consider a rental property a “public place,” similar to any other “public place” they have a right to inspect.
The landlords, on the other hand, say that rental properties are private dwellings, and the only way to inspect them is if reasonable grounds have been established, and they have either a warrant or permission.
How that can be is mystifying. Especially when you consider one tenant was surprised to come out of the shower and find a health inspector and police inside her apartment. As one of my listeners sarcastically pointed out, if her apartment is a public place, did they write her a ticket for public nudity or indecent exposure? When I asked lawyer Mathew Farrell what kind of violations were found against his clients, he said minor issues — like a ripped screen. If that’s all there is, it is hardly cause for such an extreme power to be exercised without oversight.
Clearly, this is a misapplication of the law. When a landlord signs a contract, the landlord is transferring some ownership rights to the tenant. The landlord can’t then enter the property at will. A police officer can’t either, not without getting a warrant. If the property owner is restricted from entering and a police officer is restricted, how can health inspectors say the rules don’t apply to them?
Section 8 of the Charter protects people against unreasonable search and seizure, not to mention there is a longstanding convention in common law that our home is our castle. If this decision is allowed to stand, I guess any time the state wants access to your property, all they have to do is send in AHS to knock the door down.
This case goes to court next month. We’ll let you know how it ends up.