By Al Barbarino
The Supreme Court will not review an appeal of Harmon v. Kimmel, a lawsuit that aimed to end rent stabilization laws in New York City.
James and Jeanne Harmon, owners of a five-story brownstone in the Central Park West Historical District, sued the city in 2008, alleging that New York Rent Stabilization Law violated their Fifth Amendment rights under the Takings Clause, which says that private property may not “be taken for public use, without just compensation.”
The couple appealed after a lower court sided with the city, which in a legal brief called Rent Stabilization Law a “legitimate exercise of government police power” that neither “requires an owner to suffer a permanent physical invasion” of his or her property, nor takes away its profitability.
The Supreme Court rejected the appeal without any comment or noted dissents. “Rent regulation in New York City has a long history, and the Court properly left it to elected State and City officials to decide its future,” said city lawyer Alan Krams in a statement.
Three of the Harmon’s six apartments are subject to rent stabilization laws. According to their original lawsuit, the rents in those units were 59 percent below market. The current tenants refused to move out when the Harmons sought to move family members in.
A statement sent by Jim Harmon read, “We still believe that the Constitution does not allow the government to force us to take strangers into our home at our expense for life. Even our grandchildren have been barred from living with us. That is not our America.”
Critics of rent stabilization said the Supreme Court decision would ultimately hurt tenants. The current rent regulation system is “not a needs-based system,” said Joseph Strasburg, president of the Rent Stabilization Association, a staunch supporter of the Harmons that represents 25,000 owners of rent-stabilized apartments.
“We are deeply disappointed that the United States Supreme Court did not accept what we believe to be relevant and legitimate property rights concerns of all New York City rent-regulated property owners, who have endured 70 years of rent regulation in one form or another,” Strasburg said in a statement.
“While property owners continue to be subjected to an outdated rent regulation system, it is the tenants most in need of affordable housing who will lose the most from this court decision.”
Last month, real estate lawyer Sherwin Belkin blasted a legal brief issued by the city that called rent stabilization law a “legitimate exercise of government police power,” countering that the laws are vague and outdated.
His law firm, Belkin Burden Wenig & Goldman Belkin, later filed an amicus brief in support of the Harmons with the U.S. Supreme Court, on behalf of the Community Housing Improvement Program.
“Certainly, we are disappointed that the Court elected not to hear this case,” Belkin said in a statement. “We fully expect that CHIP, as well as other members and representatives of the real estate industry, will continue examining potential cases which present compelling constitutional claims.”
But advocates of rent stabilization applauded the Supreme Court decision.
“From the beginning, this misguided case was based in a flawed legal interpretation of the Constitution, yet still represented a very real threat to New York’s ability to continue to maintain viable working and middle class housing in a city often defined by wealth,” read a statement from the Real Rent Reform Campaign.
“Millions of New Yorkers depend on rent regulation for dependable, affordable housing, and the city depends on rent regulation to maintain stable neighborhoods and strong communities.”