U.S. SC denies challenge to New York City's rent control law

Jessica M. Karmasek Apr. 24, 2012, 2:15pm

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear a case over New York City's rent controls.

The Court denied certiorari, or review, of Harmon v. Kimmel, according to an order list Monday. It did not provide an explanation for its decision.

The lawsuit targeted the city's Rent Stabilization Law.

New York's current rent control program, which began in 1943, is the longest-running in the United States.

More than one million apartments are rent-regulated in New York City.

Of those are three of six apartments owned by plaintiff James Harmon, 68.

Harmon lives in a five-story brownstone building in Manhattan that has been in his family for 63 years.

He holds title, but he argues that his ownership is undermined by the fact that the three apartments are governed by the city's rent control program.

The three tenants, who have occupied their apartments for a cumulative period of 90 years, pay Harmon 59 percent below market -- and considerably below what the tenants could afford to pay, he contends.

On appeal before the nation's high court, Harmon argued that the city's law is a violation of the Fifth Amendment ban on the uncompensated taking of private property.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled against him last year.

The Pacific Legal Foundation, which filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of Harmon, said it strongly supported the challenge.

R.S. Radford, the principal attorney for PLF and who authored the foundation's brief, had urged the justices to hear the case.

"New York City's so-called rent stabilization rules are aggressively subversive of basic rights and rational public policy. Tenants in rent-stabilized units are allowed to stay for as many years as they like. They can even pass their units along to their heirs," he said in a statement earlier this month.

"For all intents and purposes, these units have been seized from the owners. The landlord isn't just robbed of any say in who occupies the unit, but also of any freedom in pricing it. An arbitrary cap on rental rates ensures that they're far below market."

PLF argued that the city's "suffocating" rent regulations deter construction of new apartments and actually create housing shortages by discouraging people from getting into the rental business.

"It's as if the city's firefighters showed up at a burning house with gasoline instead of water," Radford said.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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