The RENT | April 16, 2012 | 9:45am
By Kim Velsey
Forget sweet nothings and exclusive party invitations. The two words most New Yorkers long to hear are “rent controlled.” But like so many (impossible?) dreams, this, too, may soon be dead.
The Supreme Court could decide today whether or not to hear a case brought by former federal prosecutor James D. Harmon Jr., the owner of a five-story townhouse on West 76th Street. Mr. Harmon, who grew up in the brownstone and now lives there with his wife Jeanne, inherited the building and its three rent-controlled tenants from his grandfather. He argues that New York City’s rent laws violate the Constitution by taking his property without just compensation.
The three tenants with rent control pay approximately $1,000 a month for one-bedroom apartments, about 59 percent below market rate, according to court documents. Three other tenants in the building pay market rents.
Although the case will, of course, only decide the fate of Mr. Harmon’s tenants, it could have wide-reaching implications for the nearly 1 million rent-stabilized apartments in the city.
This is not the first time Mr. Harmon has challenged rent control laws in the courts. Earlier suits filed by Mr. Harmon sought to remove a rent-controlled tenant so that the Harmons’ college-age granddaughter could live in the unit. Most recently, he took the case to the the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which ruled last September that the rent-stabilization law did not constitute a “taking” and that Mr. Harmon had acquired the property with “full knowledge that it was subject to RSL.”
Mr. Harmon declined to comment on what he would do if the Supreme Court rejects his petition to hear the case.
Two of the three-tenants in rent-controlled units—Nancy Wing Lombardi and Dave Mlotok, declined the Observer’s request for an interview. The third, Cheryl Mervine, did not return calls seeking comment.
Mr. Mlotok, who moved into the apartment in 1976 and now works in publishing, declined to discuss with The Times whether or not he could afford to pay market rate for his apartment.
The law, on the books since 1969, mandates that owners of properties with six or more units abide by annual rent increases—usually around 3 percent—set by the Rent Guidelines Board.
If the Supreme Court decides to take the case, oral arguments would be held this October. Although the court considered whether or not to hear the case on Friday, an announcement as to whether or not it will have its day in the highest court of the land is not expected until today at the earliest. The announcement could come anytime between now and the next weeks.