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Illinois Personal Injury & Criminal Defense / Blog / Federal Crimes / Can A Landlord Consent To A Police Search Of Your Apartment?

Can A Landlord Consent To A Police Search Of Your Apartment?


The Fourth Amendment generally forbids the police from searching your home without a warrant. But what if you rent your home? Can your landlord consent to a search if you are not present?

The short answer is “no.” In most cases, federal criminal law provides that a landlord cannot allow the police to search an occupied home or apartment without the tenant’s consent. The tenant has a “reasonable expectation of privacy” for Fourth Amendment purposes.

Seventh Circuit: Defendant Entitled to Privacy Even After Renting an Apartment Under a False Name

A federal appeals court here in Illinois recently emphasized the importance of a tenant’s expectation of privacy–even in a scenario where the tenant may have used deception against a landlord.

This unusual case, United States v. Thomas, involved a man suspected of drug trafficking by federal prosecutors in Indiana. Law enforcement in that state issued an arrest warrant for the defendant. To avoid capture, the defendant reportedly obtained a fake ID and used an alias to rent a condo in Georgia.

Eventually, federal law enforcement located the defendant and arrested him outside his condo. The landlord then allowed the police to search the condo. The police found various illegal drugs and drug paraphernalia inside the unit.

Before a federal judge back in Indiana, the defendant moved to suppress the evidence seized from his condo. The defense argued the landlord lacked the authority to consent to the search. The judge disagreed and denied the motion to suppress.

On appeal, however, the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago reversed and held that the search violated the defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights. The Court noted that even though the defendant used a false alias to rent the condo, that by itself did not deprive him of a “legitimate expectation of privacy.” That expectation, in turn, was based on whether “society is prepared to recognize that expectation as reasonable.”

The complicating factor here, the Court noted, was that the landlord was entitled to protect her interest in the leased property from a “fugitive.” Under Georgia law, the landlord could certainly terminate the defendant’s lease for using a fake alias. But critically, state law did not permit the landlord to simply evict the defendant without going through a formal proceeding. And while that proceeding was pending, the defendant continued to enjoy a legitimate expectation of privacy. Put another way, under the specific facts of this case, the landlord could not summarily evict the defendant and consent to a police search of the condo.

Contact Champaign Federal Criminal Defense Attorney Baku N. Patel Today

The lesson here is not that you should rent an apartment under false pretenses. Rather, it is that the Fourth Amendment protects your right to be free of warrantless searches even in cases where your landlord may consent to a search without your permission. The issue is whether or not you have a legitimate expectation of privacy under the circumstances.

If you are facing serious felony charges, a Champaign federal criminal defense lawyer can help ensure that law enforcement respects your constitutional rights. Contact Patel Law, PC, today to schedule a free case evaluation.



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