Thursday, January 12, 2012

Summary of General Tenants Meeting of January 11, 2012

Andy Scherer on The Harmon Case

A full house - including City Council Member Gale Brewer, Community Board 7 president Mark Diller, CB7 Housing Committee co-chair Nick Prigo, and Community Free Democrats district leader Joan Paylo - heard Prof. Andrew Scherer talk about the Harmon case.   James Harmon, an Upper West Side landlord, is trying to appeal his (so far losing) case to the U.S. Supreme Court, asking the nine justices to overturn all rent regulation in New York. 

Prof. Scherer noted that although NYC (represented by the Corporation Counsel - or "Corp. Counsel") and NY State (represented by the Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman), responded when Harmon first brought the case to the lowest and middle federal courts, they did not even bother filing papers when Harmon filed his appeal.  The Court had essentially decided this issue approximately 100 years ago in favor of rent regulation, and there was no point, they thought. 

Unfortunately, the US Supreme Court has asked the Corp. Counsel and the NYS Attorney General to file their opposition explaining why the Court should not hear this case.  This is somewhat alarming:  Since the law has been settled on this point, the only reason for the Court to hear the case at all is that it would consider unsettling the law.  

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, some conservative think tanks (the Atlantic Legal Foundation, the Cato Institute, the Pacific Legal Foundation, and New York's Rent Stabilization Association, a landlord lobbying group) seized upon Harmon's efforts as the next step in getting rid of as much regulation as they can.  These groups are providing Harmon legal support.  "Don't regulate the environment or Wall Street, or, now that you mention it, rents either" they cry. "Businesses will do it themselves!"  They don't care about the 2.5 million people in those apartments. Even the Wall Street Journal has weighed in, urging the Supreme Court to hear the case.

Harmon claims that preventing him from making as much money as the market will bear deprives him of property without just compensation - in violation of the "takings" clause of the U.S. Constitution's 5th Amendment.  To date, the only time the Supreme Court has upheld a landlord's claim in this context is when the government physically forced something or someone in the landlord's property (that case was about a cable television wire). Harmon, who rents out his 6 apartments to tenants as a business, is pretending that the human beings to whom he rents his apartments are unwanted physical intrusions imposed by the government.  Not those to whom he's charging market rent - they're presumably wanted.  Only those who are not paying what he'd like to collect.
 
As a NYC landlord who inherited the building with its rent stabilized apartments and who could, under NYS rent stabilization law, take over the entire building for his own family's use if he wanted to (ousting the tenants in the process), he is only interested in the dough.  He and other anti-regulation types ignore the fact that "while the rest of the investment community suffered from the meltdown of 2008-2009, owners of rent-stabilized properties realized an average increase in net operating income of 5.8 percent." (Source: Tim Collins, former Executive Director of the Rent Guidelines Board, writing for Met Council on Housing's Tenant/Inquilino, Dec. 2011. That article is an excellent explanation of the Harmon case!)
It is not that likely the Court will take this case when it has thousands of others to consider, and this has been settled law for almost a century. But IF the Supreme Court decides to consider the case, it probably will not actually be heard until the next Supreme Court term beginning the first Monday of October 2012.     And IF the Court agrees to hear the case, tenants have to respond.  NYC's Corporation Counsel and the NYS Attorney General will defend the constitutionality of the law.  But tenants will need to speak for ourselves both politically and in an "amicus" (friend of the court) brief.  Fortunately, Prof. Scherer and other lawyers stand ready to write.  And the tenants voted unanimously to support an amicus brief.
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2012 Dues: Tenants are the 99% - but we still have to collect money.  So if you haven't yet paid your 2012 dues ($10/apartment), your floor captain and treasurer Joan Browne will happily accept them - and legal fund contributions ($100/year per apartment).

Trouble paying the rent? Legal problems? If you can't afford a lawyer, go to LawHelp.org.  You can also contact attorney Joyce Goodman in the office of Assembly Member Daniel O'Donnell, 212-866-3970, who helps people for free with benefits and tenant problems.   You can find landlord-tenant lawyers (who must be paid) at www.save-ml.org. 

Upcoming event: Thursday, Jan. 19, 2012, Occupy REBNY (the Real Estate Board of NY) at 6 PM in front of the NY Hilton at 53rd St. and 6th Ave. The Real Rent Reform Campaign will be there and you should be too. 

Clout:  It means getting politicians (and judges)  to listen - and that means people in large numbers, since we vote.  (Unfortunately, just reading informative newsletters on line isn't enough!)  

Every one of us counts.  


If you have questions or suggestions, contact us!

- The Executive Committee
Sue Susman, sue [ at sign] janak [dot] org
Na'ava Ades, naavaa [@] gmail [dot  ] com
Joan Browne, jbbrownefaison [@ sign] att [dot] net
Rich Jordan, richj214 [@  sign] aol [dot  ] com
Greg Murray, geeemurr [at   ]aol [ dot] com
Steve Koulish, eskoolman [  @]  yahoo [ dot ] com