Prof. Epstein Weighs in to Support the Harmons


Rent Control Hits the Supreme Court

Private apartment owners should not have to fund a

 public welfare program.


People who don’t live in New York City probably haven’t confronted the market-distorting injustices of rent control and similar rent-stabilization laws. But they may recall their outrage in 2008 upon reading that New York Rep. Charles Rangel worked the system by paying a total of $3,894 a month for four rent-stabilized luxury apartments in Harlem, about half the market price.
Remarkably, a serious constitutional challenge to rent-control and stabilization laws may finally be in the works. The challenge arises from James and Jeanne Harmon, who own a town house on West 76th Street in New York City. The upper floors are occupied by tenants who are entrenched under New York’s rent-stabilization law, paying rents at only a fraction of the value of their units. Mr. Harmon, a most persistent man whom I have from time to time advised, is attempting to strike down this law.
The Second Circuit Court of Appeals blew off his suit in March, but Mr. Harmon has filed petition for certiorari in the Supreme Court, and, miracles of miracles, the high court has asked New York City and the tenants to respond. His story has been sympathetically featured in the New York Times, the Daily News and the New York Post. Perhaps there is still some life in the challenge to rent controls. There darn well ought to be.
In broad and emphatic language, the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution provides that “no person shall be . . . deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” Rent control collides with the last prohibition, the “takings clause.”
All versions of rent-control laws share a single dominant characteristic: They allow a tenant to remain in possession of property after the expiration of a lease at below-market rents. New York even gives the tenant a statutory right to pass on the right to occupy the premises at a controlled rent to family members who have lived with them for two or more years. The tenants in Mr. Harmon’s complaint pay rent equal to about 60% of market value. Continue reading

New York Law Journal: High Court Not Likely to Hear Rent Law Challenge, Experts Say


High Court Not Likely to Hear Rent Law Challenge, Experts Say

Harmon v. Kimmel, 11-496, was filed against New York City in 2008 by James Harmon and his wife Jeanne. Southern District Judge Barbara S. Jones (See Profile) dismissed the case in February 2010.
Second Circuit Judges Amalya L. Kearse (See Profile), Robert D. Sack (See Profile) and Robert A. Katzmann (See Profile) affirmed the dismissal in a summary order in March 2011. The Harmons then petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for writ of certiorari. Earlier this month, the Court asked the city to file a response to the petition by Jan. 4. The deadline has been extended to Feb. 3. Continue reading

Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Editorial): High Court Has Apparent Interest in Challenge to Rent Stabilization


High Court Has Apparent Interest in Challenge to Rent Stabilization

by Samuel Newhouse, published online 12-21-2011
One Supreme Court Justice Tells City to File AnswerBy Samuel Newhouse
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
BROOKLYN — If one homeowner has his way, the nation’s highest court may soon be examining New York City’s rent-stabilization laws for the first time since the 1920s, with potentially powerful ramifications for residents in the County of Kings.

This month, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered that the city file response papers by Jan. 4 to the petition of James Harmon, 68, and his wife, the owners of a five-story brownstone on the Upper West Side in Manhattan.

Having lost his case at both the trial court and the Circuit Court, the city waived its right to file opposition papers to Harmon’s petition to the nation’s high court, presumably confident that the Supreme Court would deny cert and dismiss Harmon’s petition. However, one of the nine justices (it is unknown which) has told the city to file response papers, indicating an apparent interest in the case.

Continue reading