Of all the hundreds of cert petitions that have come to the Supreme Court over the summer and are now ready for consideration at the justices’ late-September “long conference,” the biggest involve New York City’s decades-old rent-control regime. Two companion cases, Community Housing Improvement Program v. City of New York and 74 Pinehurst LLC v. State of New York, question the constitutionality of Gotham’s Rent Stabilization Law (RSL). The petitioners argue that the RSL violates the Fifth Amendment’s takings clause by permanently denying the core feature of property rights—the right to exclude others—thus violating the guarantee that private property not be taken for public use without just compensation.
This is no right-wing crusade. The challengers represent and have drawn support from a broad coalition of interest and activist groups. They note that, in addition to depriving landlords of the basic right to choose who lives in their property, the RSL prevents the construction of new housing and leads to the deterioration of existing housing stock. It also stops families from recovering units in their own buildings (from tenants whose leases end, let alone the difficulties in securing mid-lease evictions) and using them to enable multigenerational living.
New York City has maintained a system of rent control since the 1940s. The cornerstone of the modern regime was enacted in 1969 and has been amended many times. The RSL regulates buildings constructed before 1974 that contain six or more units—which currently covers about 1 million units, comprising half of all New York City apartments. The law severely limits landlords’ rights to exclude, occupy, use, change the use of, or dispose of their property. Owners must renew tenants’ leases in perpetuity with few exceptions—and these strong tenants’ rights are heritable, with a “tenant’s family” defined as encompassing grandparents, grandchildren, in-laws, and other extended family. Succession rights are likewise available to people who are in “emotional and financial commitment and interdependence with the tenant.”