U.S. Supreme Court seeks city’s input on UWS landlord’s rent-stabilization complaint

December 20, 2011 09:27AM

James Harmon, a former federal prosecutor who owns a townhouse on West 76th Street near Central Park, could be going before the U.S. Supreme Court to fight rent regulation.

The New York Times reported that Harmon has lost twice in lower courts, including in the Court of Appeals in Manhattan in September, but the Supreme Court has taken notice of the case and asked the city and state to file answers to Harmon’s petition to be heard.

Harmon, who lives on the parlor floor of the house and rents out the top floors as six one-bedroom apartments, claims that the rent laws are a “taking” of his property. The government locks him into earning a below market-rate for the units, and he shoulders that burden for generations as the apartments get passed down. The three rent-stabilized tenants pay around $1,000 a month for their homes, according to the Times.

Though tenants say Harmon is friendly, and he insists he is not personally attacking his tenants, the lawsuit could have major implications if, against all odds, it is successful. Rent-stabilization has been challenged several times through the years, but has found favor in courts. The lower courts that previously ruled against Harmon expect their decisions to stand.

Harmon dislikes that the rent-stabilization system is dependent on luck, rather than need, pointing out that one of his tenants owns a home on Long Island. But local assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal was quick to acknowledge Harmon’s luck in inheriting the townhouse in 1949 from his grandfather. [NYT]