Check this out, an opinion from the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court in a tax assessment case, Jacobowitz v. Bd of Assessors, Town of Cornwall, No. D39807 (July 30, 2014. The court held that the Fourth Amendment's prohibition on warrantless searches and seizures means that a property owner did not have to let the Town's appraiser into her home to "conduct an interior appraisal inspection" related to her property tax assessment. Slip op. at 1.
It's a quick read, so we won't spell it all out in detail, just focus on a couple of the best points. The court held that it is the government's burden to show entitlement to entry of a home, and not the property owner's burden to show why it should not. And the property owner's challenge to the tax assessment did not waive her rights:
Contrary to the Town respondents’ contention, the petitioner did not, by challenging the Town respondents’ assessments, “open the door” to inspection of the interior of her property against her will, in effect, waiving her Fourth Amendment rights (see Matter of Yee v Town of Orangetown, 76 AD3d at 111-112). “A waiver of constitutional rights must be knowing and intelligent” (id. at 111; see Fiore v Oakwood Plaza Shopping Ctr., 78 NY2d 572, 581, cert denied 506 US 823). On this record, there is no such waiver. The petitioner has, in a sense, placed the assessed value of her property in issue, and her act of challenging the assessments of her property is a relevant factor to consider in balancing the reasonableness of the Town respondents’ interest in seeking entry into the petitioner’s home for inspection against the petitioner’s privacy interests. However, the petitioner’s actions do not amount to a waiver of her Fourth Amendment right to privacy.
Slip op. at 8. It also didn't matter that the purpose of the entry was not for a police investigation, the usual subject of Fourth Amendment issues.
Finally, in order to get the warrant, the Town must show probable cause, meaning that it must demonstrate that the inspection it seeks is reasonable, "in the context of their need for the inspection -- to conduct an interior appraisal in order to arrive at an estimate of the fair market value of the petitioner's home and to defend themselves against claims of selective assessment[.]" Slip op. at 8. The court noted that part of that is an explanation of why it was necessary to enter the home at all, especially when the Town did not need to enter the home for its earlier assessments, and the challenged assessment is for tax year 2006 (and a view if the interior of the home in 2012 might no longer be relevant).
Thanks to our New York colleagues at Bulldozers at Your Doorstep for sending this one our way.