What If The Supreme Court Kills Rent Control?

What If The Supreme Court Kills Rent Control?

Rent control seems unfair, but ending it could threaten people’s homes—and endanger important zoning regulations
Michael Appleton / The New York Times / Redux
The doorbell on a rent-controlled apartment that was the focus
 of a landlord’s suit against the actress Faye Dunaway and her son,
 Liam Dunaway O’Neill, in New York, Aug. 2, 2011.

In many congested cities – New York City most of all – rent control laws protect tenants who are lucky enough to have such leases from major rent increases. But the Supreme Court could be on the brink of striking down rent control. If it does, the court will hand landlords a huge victory and put many tenants in danger of losing their homes. It could also lay the groundwork for striking down a wide array of zoning laws.

The Supreme Court is considering a case filed by James Harmon, a onetime Reagan Administration lawyer who owns a brownstone on West 76th street in Manhattan. One of his tenants, an executive recruiter named Nancy Wing Lombardi, has leased a one-bedroom apartment in the building since 1976. Since the apartment is rent-controlled, she pays $1000 a month, at least half what an unregulated apartment in the same neighborhood would cost. Harmon argues that laws limiting how much rent he can charge are an unconstitutional “taking” of his property. The court has not yet decided to take the case, but it has asked for additional briefing – “taking a harder look,” the Wall Street Journal reported, “than anyone expected.” Continue reading