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LawCrossing Feature

Supreme Court May Hear Case on Rent Control in NYC by Rebecca E. Neely

In recent days, both the Bloomberg administration and Schneiderman submitted opposition briefs to the high court outlining their support of the city’s Rent Stabilization Law, which covers an estimated two million renters.

In a nutshell, why rent control? Per the recent

property available for rental cannot then claim that the

WSJ blog, “Legal War Over NYC Rent Regulations”,

presence of tenants constitutes an uninvited permanent

Schneiderman put it as follows:

physical invasion.”

“New York City faces a notorious shortage of affordable

The Harmons fired back, saying mobile homeowners

rental housing and a volatile housing market for

in San Diego and landlords in NYC have absolutely

many reasons — including a highly desirable location,

nothing in common. That case spoke explicitly to the

exceptional population density, high construction costs,

“unusual economic relationship between [mobile home]

and limited space due to natural geographic boundaries

park owners and mobile home owners” and the “unique

By regulating evictions and the pace of rent increases,

protection from…eviction” given mobile home owners,

the RSL protects tenants, particularly the elderly and

per the blog.

disabled, from dislocation, and limits the disruption to neighborhoods and communities that would result from

The Harmons are also hanging their hats on due

dramatic changes in rental rates and rapid turnover of

process – the legal requirement that the state must

tenants year to year.”

respect all of the legal rights owed to a person. They put forth the argument that the rent control laws were

The Harmons’ position against rent control focuses on a

established ninety years ago, and that was in response

number of factors, including the Fifth Amendment, due

to a catastrophic emergency, and as such, it can be

process, and economics.

temporary, not permanent. Not so, says Schneiderman. That precedent was tossed

First of all, the Harmons own, and rent, a brownstone

out twelve years later in the case of Nebbia v. New

on the Upper West Side of the city. The city’s rent

York. The outcome? The government was permitted

control laws, in essence, force them to charge less

to regulate the price of milk if it could reasonably

than the going market rate, and continually renew their

demonstrate a public benefit.

tenants’ leases. The Harmons say this is in violation of the Fifth Amendment, which states the government

But, the Harmons ask, where is the public good in rent

is not allowed to take private property for public use

control? Their tenants in essence, receive nearly a 60%

without just compensation. But, the city and state

discount, and get lifetime tenure. Their parting shot?

disagree, citing the case of Yee v. City of Escondido. Per

They say the city’s rent control laws are a “racket in

Schneiderman’s brief:

which property owners and market rate tenants always lose.”

“In Yee, this Court recognized a simple proposition that forecloses petitioners’ claim: owners who make their


Quite frankly, the Harmons’ arguments are stacking

continued on back


LawCrossing Feature

up as more and more credible – they appear to have

The fate of rent control as New Yorkers know it could

due process and the Fifth Amendment on their side.

rest with the justices of the Supreme Court.

Schneiderman is seemingly grasping at straws, citing mobile homes and milk in support of the law.


Supreme Court May Hear Case on Rent Control in NYC