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When Can I Refuse a Search of My Apartment?

If you are a renter in North Carolina, you may be wondering what your rights are regarding police searches of your apartment. If the police want to search your apartment, do you ever have the right to refuse their search? The short answer is yes; you can refuse a search of your apartment (but not always).

The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects people in every state from unreasonable searches and seizures. This means that police do not have the right to search your apartment unless 1) they have a warrant, and 2) they don’t have a warrant BUT an exception applies. 

Here, we will discuss two key exceptions – warrants and consent – where police can search your apartment. 

Do the Police Have a Warrant? 

If the police arrive at your apartment with a warrant to search the space, you (generally speaking) cannot refuse their entry and search. A warrant is an order signed by a judge detailing the specific place to be searched and the specific items to be seized. With a valid warrant, you cannot stop the police from searching your apartment. 

If you believe the warrant is invalid or you are otherwise justified in refusing their entry, you will have an option (by way of a judicial proceeding) to challenge the search later. The Fourth Amendment requires warrants to be specific. If the police search your apartment with a warrant, a North Carolina criminal defense attorney may still be able to challenge the warrant’s validity after the fact. If, for example, the warrant is too vague, the warrant may be deemed invalid, and any evidence of criminal activity found from that search could be thrown out. That is why it is always important to engage an experienced North Carolina criminal defense attorney to review your case after the police have searched your apartment.

Did You Consent to the Search?

Aside from a warrant, police officers can enter your apartment to search if you expressly consent to the search. If the police arrive without a warrant and you do not want them to search, you can refuse, and they will have to leave. Generally speaking, they can only come back and search once they have a valid warrant. 

Can Someone Else Consent to a Search of My Apartment?

What if you live with roommates? What about your landlord? Can either roommates or a landlord give police consent to search your apartment? 

Generally, that answer is “no,” but as usual, there are some exceptions.

Can My Roommate Give Consent?

Generally, roommates can consent to police searches for common areas of the property only. They cannot grant police consent to search another roommate’s personal areas (e.g., a bedroom). Only you can give your consent to that, and if you refuse, the police cannot search the area. If more than one roommate is present when the police come to search, and one roommate objects to the search, the police may not be able to search any area.

Can My Landlord Give Consent?

Generally, a landlord cannot give consent to search a renter’s apartment, unless the police have a warrant. Only you, as the renter, can give consent because the apartment is considered your home, not the landlord’s, while you are a tenant. Typically it is only in an emergency that a landlord can allow police to search a renter’s apartment. 

A Renter’s Rights to Refuse a Search

Renters have many rights when it comes to consenting to, or refusing, a police search of their apartment. If you think your Fourth Amendment rights have been violated and police have illegally searched your home, contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer to explore your options.