Monday, March 5, 2012

As a Homeowner in Connecticut, You Have the Right to Deny Zoning Enforcement Officers Entry onto Your Property

Many Americans are aware of their right to refuse law enforcement officials’ request to enter onto their property or into their homes.  If you refuse them entry, the law requires law enforcement officers to seek a warrant from a judge based on “probable cause,” except in limited emergency circumstances.
Recently, the Connecticut Supreme Court was presented with the question of what happens when a town’s zoning enforcement officer demands to specifically search a homeowner’s property for evidence of zoning violations and the homeowner refuses.  In that case, released February 14, 2012, and discussed in the Connecticut Law Tribune, the homeowners had refused to allow onto their property the zoning enforcement officer for the Town of Bozrah, who had been specifically instructed to search their property for unregistered motor vehicles and “other junk.”
In reaching its decision, the Connecticut Supreme Court took the principles underlying the protections afforded by the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution one step further, requiring that, when a homeowner denies a zoning enforcement official’s request to search their property, that official must then seek a court order (warrant) allowing them onto the property and the court, in reviewing such a request, must abide by a specific standard.  Specifically, the state Supreme Court held that “before a court may issue an order permitting a zoning enforcement officer to enter and search a particular property, there must be a preliminary showing of facts within the knowledge of the zoning officer and of which the officer has reasonably trustworthy information that are sufficient to cause a reasonable person to believe that conditions constituting a violation of the zoning ordinances are present on the subject property.”
In short, the zoning enforcement officer must respect a homeowner’s refusal to allow the officer onto their property and a court, before ordering a homeowner to allow the officer onto the property, must be certain that the officer has trustworthy and factually specific information that there is a zoning violation on the property, rather than a mere suspicion or a desire to conduct a ‘fishing expedition’ on a homeowner’s property.

Questions or Comments? Contact Jared Cantor.