Will conservative Supreme Court remove rent regs?



April 5, 2012
Photo by Scott Stiffler
About half the tenants at London Terrace are in rent-regulated apartments. Most would have to leave if the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down rent protections.
The U.S. Supreme Court will decide this month whether to take a case challenging the constitutionality of New York’s 1943 rent regulation law that gives tenants the right to renew their leases and limits rent increases to a variable percentage. If taken, the case would be heard in the high court’s October term — and a decision would be given by June 2013.

While the rent laws have withstood numerous court challenges over the years, the highly conservative court led by Chief Justice John Roberts has tenants all over New York nervous. The Supreme Court has already declared corporations to have the rights of people and may strike down the federal Affordable Health Care Act. But New York elected officials have yet to contemplate actions government could take to ameliorate the effects of an abrupt end to rent stabilization and rent control.

This article is not about the merits of the rent laws from a tenant or landlord perspective, but a look at what would happen if James D. Harmon, an Upper West Side landlord, gets the U.S. Supreme Court to take his challenge to the constitutionality of the laws. The lower courts have rejected Harmon’s case almost out of hand, given the long legal history of U.S. courts upholding the constitutionality of the rent laws — but tenants in regulated apartments are alarmed about what this right-wing court will do. All we know at the moment is that one anonymous justice asked for the city’s and state’s answers to Harmon’s appeal. Continue reading

West Side Spirit: Landlord Turns to Supreme Power on Rent


Landlord Turns to Supreme Power on Rent

Upper West Side landlord James Harmon is tired of his rent stabilized tenants paying well below market rate for the apartments in the five-story West 76th Street brownstone he inherited, so he’s turned to the U.S. Supreme Court to relieve him—and the rest of the state—of rent regulations. Harmon filed a lawsuit against the chair of the Rent Guidelines Board, Jonathan Kimmel, and the commissioner of New York State Homes and Community Renewal, Darryl Towns, alleging that the rent regulations violate his Fifth Amendment right to receive compensation from the state for what he says is the taking of his property. When the court ruled that there was no taking of property, Harmon appealed on the basis of the 14th Amendment, claiming that he had been denied the right to due process. That’s what caught the attention of a law firm in California, Pacific Legal Foundation, which has jumped in in support of Harmon’s case to ask the Supreme Court to hear his appeal.

R.S. Radford, the attorney who filed the amicus brief on behalf of the firm, as well as the conservative policy think tank the Cato Institute and the Small Property Owners of San Francisco Institute, said that Pacific Legal takes on cases that affect the public interest.