Inspection of Roma family’s home without legal basis

In the case of L.F. v. Hungary (application no. 621/14, 19.05.2022) the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been a violation of Article 8 (right to respect for home) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The case concerned an inspection of the applicant’s home – retrospectively justified as necessary to verify compliance with construction regulations and for the allocation and/or review of housing benefits – in 2011 by a delegation of the local mayor’s office. The inspection took place as part of a new social scheme and amid heightened tensions between Roma and non-Roma inhabitants.

The Court considered that the inspection of the applicant’s house had constituted an interference with his right to respect for his home. The mayor’s office’s argument to justify that interference to the investigating authorities had been the need to verify, firstly, whether the applicant’s home had complied with the relevant construction regulations and, second, the family’s living conditions because the applicant’s wife had been in receipt of housing benefits. 

As to the first explanation, however, the Court noted that the regional authorities had examined the case – after the police’s first decision in the case – and concluded that the construction regulations relied on by the mayor’s office had not been applicable. The subsequent decisions issued had not therefore referred to those regulations as a legal basis for the inspection. As to the question of housing benefit, the mayor’s office did not rely on any provision of domestic law in the first set of enquiries, submitting only in the second set of enquiries that the inspection had been based on Municipal Decree no. 3/2009, which provided for on-site inspections prior to the allocation of benefits and a subsequent annual review.

The Court pointed out though that the relevant provisions of the Decree could not have served as a legal basis for the inspection either. The last decision on benefits concerning the applicant’s household had been issued in July 2011 and at the time of the inspection, in October 2011, there had been no official procedure pending in that regard. Therefore, even supposing that the municipal decree had allowed on-site inspections to review benefits, that was clearly irrelevant to the applicant’s case in the absence of any pending official procedure.

As neither the Government nor the authorities had relied on any other law to justify the inspection, the Court concluded that the interference with the applicant’s rights had not been “in accordance with the law”, in violation of Article 8.

Reference from the official website of the European Court of Human Rights