James D. Harmon Jr. learned the value of a house as a child, shoveling coal into the furnace of one of two Upper West Side buildings owned by his grandfather, a French immigrant who worked as a waiter. “Jimmy, you take care of your building and your building will take care of you,” his grandfather told him. “But the word he used in French wasn’t building” Mr. Harmon recalled the other day. “The word he used in French was ‘maison,’ which means home.”
Now Mr. Harmon, 68, who grew up in one of those buildings — a bow-fronted town house on West 76th Street near Central Park — has gone to the United States Supreme Court contending that New York City’s rent laws constitute a “taking” of his property without just compensation, a violation of his constitutional rights.
The regulations are meant to support the government’s goal of maintaining affordable housing for its citizens. Instead, he says, the laws have forced him and his family to shoulder the government’s burden and extend what is essentially “privatized welfare” to rent-stabilized tenants who are paying rent 59 percent below market rates and who have rights of succession to their lodgings in his house.
“Put yourself in our position,” Mr. Harmon, a former federal prosecutor, said of himself and his wife, Jeanne. “Suppose somebody told you, you’ve got an extra bedroom, we’d like to put someone in there for as long as they want to stay, and you have to take care of them for the rest of their lives and the rest of your life. That’s really what this is like.”
The city’s rent regulations have been challenged many times going back decades, making this case an uphill battle. Mr. Harmon has lost twice in lower courts, most recently in September, when the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in Manhattan, ruled that the rent-stabilization law did not constitute a “taking” because it did not stop him from using the building as a rental property and did not stop him from living there himself.
To continue reading, click here.