The Real Deal New York

Supreme Court declines to hear UWS rent stabilization case

By Katherine Clarke | April 23, 2012 12:00PM

[Updated at 3:30 p.m. with comment from Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal] [Updated at 12:30 p.m. with comment from Harmon] Despite an unexpectedly thorough review from the U.S. Supreme Court in recent months, the court has declined to hear the case of James Harmon, the Upper West Side landlord challenging rent stabilization laws, according to court papers filed today.

Harmon challenged the constitutionality of having him subsidize tenants to live in his own home at 32 West 76th Street. He previously said it’s unfair for him to subsidize his long-time tenants when they can afford to pay market rates. His three rent-stabilized tenants pay $1,000 monthly for their apartments, he said.

Though courts on all levels routinely upheld rent stabilization laws, and despite the fact that his own case has been dismissed by two state courts, Harmon, who is a former New York federal prosecutor and represented himself in the case, caught the attention of the U.S. Supreme Court in December, in his bid to fight the regulations, it was previously reported. But, despite the Supreme Court requesting the city file a response explaining the courts’ aforementioned dismissals, the case is now closed.

“The Harmon family is disappointed in the Supreme Court’s decision,” Harmon, whose brownstone is between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue, told The Real Deal in a statement. “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.”

He continued: “Because of rent stabilization, it will now continue to be difficult for us to keep our home of five generations.”

A supporter of Harmon’s fight, Sherwin Belkin, a founding partner of the law firm of Belkin Burden Wenig & Goldman, issued the following statement to The Real Deal:

“Belkin Burden Wenig & Goldman, on behalf of the Community Housing Improvement Program, had filed an amicus brief in support of the owners,” Belkin said. “Certainly we are disappointed that the Supreme Court has elected not to hear this case. We fully expect that members of the real estate industry will continue examining cases that present compelling constitutional claims.”

Another attorney, Terrence Oved, chairman of law firm Oved & Oved’s real estate department, who was not involved in the case, said he was somewhat surprised that the court had denied hearing the case despite expressing interest in it over the last few months.

“We thought the court was going to take this on,” he said. “These laws have been in New York City for 40 or 50 years and were drafted in response to an emergency housing situation.”

If the court had chosen to hear the case, it might have affected the rental market in the city, he said.

“In anticipation of a decision, a lot of landlords thinking of putting properties subject to rent stabilization on the market might have held them back,” he noted.

Assembly member Linda Rosenthal, who oversees Harmon’s district, released the following statement on the Supreme Court’s decision: “I am gratified that the United States Supreme Court has denied review of the Harmon case, which could have spelled the end of rent regulation in New York City. This is a victory for millions of rent-regulated tenants throughout New York City who would not be able to afford to live in this City were it not for rent regulation.”

The Supreme Court declined to comment on the decision.