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Supreme Court Turns Down Suit On New York Rent Control

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Supreme Court Turns Down Suit On New York Rent Control

Switch in Owner-Occupancy Law Survives Constitutional Challenge

 

Washington, DC, February 23, 1998 — The United States Supreme Court today declined to hear a constitutional attack on New York State’s restriction of owner-occupancy evictions. The Supreme Court action leaves standing a New York appellate decision upholding a 1984 state law that severely restricted the conditions under which owners of rent-controlled units can evict their tenants in order to personally occupy their property.

The case involved a New York City couple, Jerrold and Ellen Ziman, who bought a small Greenwich Village townhouse in 1984, planning to restore it into a single-family for themselves and their two children. The house contained three rent-controlled tenants. While eviction of such tenants is severely restricted, NY law at the time allowed "owner-occupancy evictions". However, five months after the Zimans bought their home, the law was suddenly changed to bar owner-occupancy evictions if the tenants were elderly or had lived in the property for over 20 years. The Zimans, who had never intended to be landlords, suddenly found themselves with unevictable tenants while their own family was crammed into two tiny vacant units in their home.

After over seven years of legal battles, the Zimans finally succeeded in evicting their tenants on another legal ground – that of financial hardship. Their current suit contended that the state's retroactive change in the owner-occupancy law violated their due process rights. In addition, they argued that their resulting seven-year ordeal, caused by both the new law and the state agency’s mishandling of their eviction application, was a taking of property for which compensation is due under the Fifth Amendment.

The Zimans were represented by the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI). CEI General Counsel Sam Kazman, who handled the case stated: "The right to make your house your home would seem to be one of the most basic elements of property rights. New York State’s destruction of that right illustrates one of the less appreciated perversities of rent control. Given the Supreme Court’s failure to hear this and other rent control cases, it seems that the "temporary" post-World War II housing emergency which has been used to justify NY rent control for over 50 years may well continue, judicially unscathed, into the next millennium."

 

CEI is a non-profit, non-partisan research and advocacy institute dedicated to the principles of free markets and limited government. For more information, contact Emily McGee at 202-331-1010.