Rent Regulations under the Police Power

Conditions resulting from the widespread housing shortage caused by the cessation of building during the war have given rise to legislation which must seem startling indeed to much of the legal talent surviving from a generation ago. The outstanding example is to be found in the New York laws which so far have succeeded admirably in eluding the constitutional pitfalls relied upon to nullify them. Three provisions have borne the brunt of the attack. The first prevents the recovery of an unreasonable rent in an action at law, and places the burden of showing reasonableness upon the landlord.” Another suspends for two years the landlord’s right to maintain summary proceedings for dispossession except in four instances.2 These are: (a) where the tenant is objectionable, (b)’ *here the landlord, bing a natural person, desires the premises for his own personal use, (c) where the landlord desires to construct a new building on the site of the old one, and (d) where the building has been sold to a co~perativf apartment company. A third provision suspends the right to maintain ejectment in the same manner.8 In general, these provisions have been sustained,4 but the last was declared invalid by the Supreme Court, Appellate Division of the First Department, in Guttag v. Shatzkin5 chiefly on the ground that it impaired the obligation of existing contracts in that it was the final enactment of the legislature culminating in the removal of every remedy, excepting in the particular instances stated, of an owner for the recovery of the possession of real property occupied by tenants whose terms had expired and who were under contract obligations expressed in the leases or implied by law to vacate the premises and surrender possession thereof to their landlord.