City, State File Briefs Supporting Rent Law with Supreme Court

March 15, 2012
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On March 5, the Bloomberg administration and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court their opposition briefs defending the merits of the Rent Stabilization Law. These submissions were the latest step toward the Court's deciding whether to hear a case challenging the constitutionality of New York's Rent Stabilization Law.

The case was filed by lawyers representing James Harmon and his wife, who own a brownstone on West 76th Street, off Central Park. The building has three rent-stabilized apartments, one of them occupied by a tenant who pays $951.22 a month for a one-bedroom. During the past two decades, the Harmons claim in court documents, they have been effectively financing the $1,500 monthly mortgage payments the tenant makes on her Long Island weekend home.

Mr. Harmon has argued that the state's rent-regulation laws violate the due process clauses of the Fifth and 14th Amendments.

The U.S. Constitution's Fifth Amendment says the government can't take private property for public use without just compensation. The city and state, however, argue that the courts have already decided rent regulation isn't a "physical taking," citing a 20-year-old ruling against the owners of two mobile-home parks in San Diego County. In that case, Yee v. City of Escondido, the court agreed that a residency law shielding mobile home owners from evictions passed constitutional muster.

The Harmons, on the other hand, view regulated city renters and mobile-home owners as apples and oranges. They argue that city renters have far more leverage over landlords than mobile home owners do over park owners.

The Harmons are expected to reply to the opposition briefs by the end of this month. After that, the fate of their case is up to the justices of the Supreme Court.