Not a big fan of Bob Barr ( I find him odd) but a hat tip to him for this revelation in his column for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

…What many Americans don’t realize, is that census workers — from the head of the Bureau and the Secretary of Commerce (its parent agency) down to the lowliest and newest Census employee — are empowered under federal law to actually demand access to any apartment or any other type of home or room that is rented out, in order to count persons in the abode and for “the collection of statistics.”  If the landlord of such apartment or other  leased premises refuses to grant the government worker access to your living quarters, whether you are present or not, the landlord can be fined $500.00.

That’s right — not only can citizens be fined if they fail to answer the increasingly intrusive questions asked of them by the federal government under the guise of simply counting the number of people in the country; but a landlord must give them access to your apartment whether you’re there or not, in order to gather whatever “statistics” the law permits.

In fact, some census workers apparently are going even further and demanding — and receiving — private cell phone numbers from landlords in order to call tenants and obtain information from them.  Isn’t it great to live in a “free” country?

Always a little suspicious of the Usual Suspects, I decided it would be prudent to find confirmation, i.e., the relevant code. Here it is via Cornell University Law School:

§ 223. Refusal, by owners, proprietors, etc., to assist census employees

Whoever, being the owner, proprietor, manager, superintendent, or agent of any hotel, apartment house, boarding or lodging house, tenement, or other building, refuses or willfully neglects, when requested by the Secretary or by any other officer or employee of the Department of Commerce or bureau or agency thereof, acting under the instructions of the Secretary, to furnish the names of the occupants of such premises, or to give free ingress thereto and egress therefrom to any duly accredited representative of such Department or bureau or agency thereof, so as to permit the collection of statistics with respect to any census provided for in subchapters I and II of chapter 5 of this title, or any survey authorized by subchapter IV or V of such chapter insofar as such survey relates to any of the subjects for which censuses are provided by such subchapters I and II, including, when relevant to the census or survey being taken or made, the proper and correct enumeration of all persons having their usual place of abode in such premises, shall be fined not more than $500.

Will the average census worker feel empowered to do this? Likely, no. The point here, however, is that the Census Bureau can demand to enter your home in your absence. The fact alone this law exists for any bureau other than law enforcement with a proper search warrant is more than troubling, it’s rankly obscene, if not actually unconstitutional.

UPDATE: Pat S. and I are having a debate about how the code could be interpreted. She thinks my assessment that it allows access to individual apartments is wrong and believes it speaks only to access to the apartment building/complex as a whole, not specific apartments. I think the issue comes down to interpretation of the word “ingress” and also the location in the code of that “free ingress” element. The fact that this specific term comes after the element regarding the furnishing of names indicates (to me) it’s not about access to the building, but an issue after the larger apartment building has already been accessed. “[T]o furnish the names of the occupants of such premises, or to give free ingress thereto and egress therefrom…” I think “free ingress” refers at that point to individual apartments. In other words, you either get the name of the person in that apartment from the landlord or you demand to be let into that apartment, ostensibly, I suppose, to find the name and “statistics” of the person living there. That’s what it looks like to me. Both Pat and I, though, will find more info for you in the meantime.

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11 Comments | Leave a comment
  1. JLThorpe says:

    I had a census worker knocking on my door just today, even though I sent out my census form weeks ago. Thankfully he left before I got to answer the door.

    Makes me think Hannibal Lecter had the right idea.

  2. FreedomsWings says:

    Yesterday for me JLThorpe. And no, I did not answer. I answered their stupid census, just not with the answers they really wanted. American is a race isn’t it? And just because my given name is not Resident 1, does not mean that I do not go by that name – LOL. WTF!? is what I have to say to this information about apartment entry. If this yahoo would have come into my apartment yesterday uninvited, he just might have gotten a clipboard full of lead.

  3. thierry says:

    ha! good luck with that mess in my part of town .

    i have lived in areas where the police wouldn’t even go in alone. never once did i see a census worker.

    the census law and fines have been challenged in court many times- i don’t think they have ever gotten a fine out of someone. if the police can’t even enter your apartment without a warrant i’d love to see them push that one… hell your landlord can’t enter your apartment without notice and good cause- and your consent. it’s one big tasty law suit and ugly PR f-up waiting to happen- which is exactly why the government has never whole heartedly pursued action against people who defy the census . urkel would totally look like the big old nazi he is if they pushed it- which i admit would be delicious. but i think they’ll just stay in the office filling out forms for mickey mouse and marilyn monroe to match their fake voter registrations.

  4. IloiloKano says:

    I wonder if that law primarily applied to those landlords who did not want their tenents counted in the census, such as perhaps post Civil War bigotry where white landowners purposely tried to prevent counting of black tenents.

    And would it apply to me as a homeowner if I refused to allow a census worker in my home?

    Tammy, I also wonder if you find me ‘odd’ 🙁

  5. aardvark says:

    “Against us are… all timid men who prefer the calm of despotism to the boisterous sea of liberty… We are likely to preserve the liberty we have obtained only by unremitting labors and perils.”
    –Thomas Jefferson

  6. MACVEL says:


  7. Dave J. says:

    Tammy, both your and Pat’s interpretations seem reasonable. Given that, there are two canons of statutory construction that lean toward Pat’s position. First, a court must apply a statute in a manner that conforms to the Constitution whenever possible. Second, the rule of lenity holds that when there are multiple possible interpretations of a criminal statute, a court MUST apply the interpretation that is the most favorable to the defendant.

    “…it’s one big tasty law suit and ugly PR f-up waiting to happen”

    PR problem, yes; lawsuit, no. The Federal Tort Claims Act is a limited waiver of sovereign immunity allowing private parties to sue the federal government and/or those acting on its behalf for money damages, but not for their performance of, or failure to perform, “a discretionary function or duty.” Get hit by a postal truck, and you’ve got a lawsuit. Not with your over-zealous census worker.

    • thierry says:

      a friend of mine WAS actually hit by a government owned truck ( city garbage truck)( they were thrown under it and run over after flipping off a bike)- and the amount of money they were allowed to sue the government for was severely limited. they spent weeks in intensive care. even though they won their suit, i don’t believe all their hospital bills were even paid in full. they never got any compensation for loss of work etc. you may have a lawsuit for money if a post office truck hits you but how much you get is definitely limited. better the comcast guy runs you down. there is no protection however for government workers against criminal complaints or for violation of the rights of citizens. lawsuits aren’t always about money.

      our beloved constitution DOES protect us from unlawful search and seizure by the 4th amendment. the government can’t stop you for filing a lawsuit claiming violation of your rights as detailed in the constitution just because urkel wants to know if your toilet flushes and if grandpa is nutty. unlawful search without a warrant is specifically detailed in the constitution as something agents of the government are not allowed to do- no matter what their ‘ duty’ might be.conforming to the constitution would mean not violating the 4th amendment.

      and if we were actually following the constitution vis a vis the census it only allows for asking number of occupants, ages and sexes. there’s no mention of all the rest of the absurd questions they ask- which could be construed as violating a citizens right to privacy also construed by the courts to involve the 4th amendment.

      census workers are actually trained not to enter residences- for their own protection. some claim ‘ingress’ only means the door is open to them- not that they can go in. but as i stated the government has only attempted to fine people a handful of times for failing to answer the census- and in the cases i know they have not won, the courts have issued injunctions against them and they’ve then dropped the matter.

      and considering they’ve hired convicted felons to do their canvasing in some places . a census worker entered someone’s home and raped the occupant.
      census worker/rapist. nice. smells like a lawsuit and some godawful press to me. criminal negligence in hiring convicted felons to have the perceived, vaguely codified power to demand entrance to residences.

      • Dave J. says:

        “…a friend of mine WAS actually hit by a government owned truck ( city garbage truck)( they were thrown under it and run over after flipping off a bike)- and the amount of money they were allowed to sue the government for was severely limited.”

        I was specifically talking about the federal government. The degree to which, and the mode in which, each of the states has waived their sovereign immunity varies extremely widely. Unlike in your friend’s case, in some states sovereign immunity does not extend to local government (New York City, for example, is probably the single most sued legal entity in the world, and unlike the state does not have sovereign immunity and the procedural protections the state enjoys in its special Court of Claims). Here in Florida, the state and local governments alike can be sued essentially like any other private party, but damages are capped at $150k unless you get a claim bill for any amount over that through the legislature (good luck with that).

        “lawsuits aren’t always about money.”

        Of course they’re not, but just because you can allege a harm does not necessarily mean that the law provides for a remedy. The remedy for a violation of 4th Amendment rights has not generally been a civil cause of action: it has been the exclusion of evidence from criminal proceedings. Likewise, there probably is a basis for equitable or declaratory relief, but when someone talks about a lawsuit being “tasty,” that generally sounds like money damages.

        • CO2aintpoison says:

          To hell with the courts. Behind my doors stand three German Shepherds behind which stand I, holding a “so-and-so” containing “such-and-such” wearing a shirt that states “WARNING Pressure on my fourth amendment causes the rapid engagement of my second”. I’m not saying I personally have anything to enforce my second amendment, but I’m not, not saying it either.

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