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Supreme Court declines to take up challenge to New York City’s rent control law

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(The Center Square) — The U.S. Supreme Court declined Tuesday to hear challenges to New York’s rent stabilization laws from landlords who claim the restrictions are unconstitutional because they cap prices and limit their ability to evict tenants.

In a two-page decision, the high court announced that it would not consider two appeals brought by landlords of rent-stabilized buildings in Long Island City and parts of Manhattan who had called on justices to overturn a pair of lower court rulings upholding the law.

The plaintiffs, which include several New York City property owners, argued in the petition the rent control law violates the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment, which provides that private property shall not “be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

The court declined to take up the appeals, but Justice Clarence Thomas said SCOTUS should consider the issues raised in this appeal in a future case. He said the arguments made by landlords complicated the court’s review of the issue.

“The petitioners’ complaints primarily contain generalized allegations about their circumstances and injuries,” Thomas wrote. “But, to evaluate their as-applied challenges, we must consider whether specific New York City regulations prevent petitioners from evicting actual tenants for particular reasons.”

The city’s rent stabilization law, first enacted in 1969, restricts annual rent increases for specific apartments, with any increases set annually by a nine-member board appointed by the mayor. It affects roughly one million apartments in the city and has survived dozens of legal challenges over the past several decades.

A 2019 update to the law beefed up rental eviction protections and eliminated a provision that had allowed landlords to get around rent control limits.

Landlords said the update to the law “supersized” the rent restrictions, shifting even more cost to private property owners and preventing them from evicting problem tenants.

They filed a lawsuit to block the changes, which was rejected by a U.S. District Court judge whose decision was upheld by the Second Circuit’s ruling. In upholding the ruling, the second circuit referenced previous state and federal court rulings striking down challenges to New York City’s rent control law.

Landlord groups say they’ve been outgunned politically in the fight by supporters of rent control, with the “combined voting power of the tenant-beneficiaries of those million subsidized apartments and the 4.3 million working taxpayers in the city who would otherwise foot the bill for providing affordable housing.”

Jay Martin, executive director of the Community Housing Improvement Program, said the decision wasn’t “terribly surprising,” and he expects “there will be many more challenges to this law, which remains irrationally punitive.”

“It’s clear now that the immediate future of rent-stabilized buildings is in the hands of the state government,” Martin said in a statement. “Thousands of buildings housing hundreds of thousands of tenants are in financial distress. Without action, the homes of many hard-working New Yorkers will deteriorate.”

“We remain committed to working with elected officials to improve rent stabilization so it works for both renters and their housing providers,” he added.

Gov. Kathy Hochul praised the high court for rejecting a challenge that “threatened New York’s nation-leading rent protections” and said she will continue to defend them.

“Our rent stabilization laws, which were first passed nearly six decades ago and reaffirmed consistently by lower courts since, remain some of our state’s most powerful tools to fight inequality, preserve affordability, and keep New Yorkers safely housed in their own communities,” she said in a statement.

A coalition of groups, including Legal Aid Society and the Coalition for the Homeless, praised the ruling upholding the law, saying it has “preserved affordable housing and prevented mass displacement and homelessness in a city where the rents are the highest in the country and rising.”

“Today’s decision by the United States Supreme Court declining to review the Second Circuit’s well-reasoned dismissals of these lawsuits is in line with well-established precedent and puts an end to these cases attacking the legal protections depended upon by a million New York households amid an ongoing housing crisis,” the groups said in a joint statement.