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Rooming Houses and the Fourth Amendment

The Fourth Amendment provides citizens with the most protection inside their own homes. A recent decision by the Florida Second District Court of Appeal-Davis v. State-addressed which areas in a rooming house constitute a Defendants' "home" for the purposes of such protection. Davis involved a defendant who stashed a pill bottle containing cocaine inside a lattice beneath the rooming house where he sometimes stayed. A police officer proceeded to remove the lattice and search the pill bottle. Davis's criminal defense attorney sought to suppress the results of the search. He argued that removing the lattice constituted an unlawful search of the defendant's home.

The Florida Supreme Court has previously stated that rooms traditionally associated with homes, like kitchens or bathrooms, do not lose their constitutional protection merely because they are shared by tenants in a rooming house. Courts are keenly aware that to apply the rules otherwise would mean that the constitution would afford less protection to lower-income citizens. It noted: "Clearly, it is economic necessity that requires those who live in such humble circumstances to dwell there. That they cannot afford to have their own kitchens and bathrooms, and hallway access thereto, does not render such areas 'public' with respect to the constitutional prerequisites for permissible entry by the police. We should vigilantly guard against permitting inroads upon the reasonable expectations of privacy of the lesser situated of our citizens who are forced by economic circumstances to reside in rooming houses."

The Davis decision now extends protection beyond common rooms into areas beneath the foundation of a rooming house. However, the court stopped short of saying that rooming houses must receive the same constitutional protections as a private house in all circumstances. For instance, curtilage-areas immediately outside of a home that include things like porches-in private residences receive some constitutional protection, but it is still an open question whether the Fourth Amendment protects the curtilage of a rooming house. Furthermore, rooming houses open to the public at large do not receive constitutional protection. Nevertheless, the decision helps solidify that privacy, at least constitutionally speaking, is not limited to those who can afford a single family home.

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Sheppard, White, Kachergus, & DeMaggio, P.A. Attorneys & Counselors at Law.
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