Edgar Levy Leasing Co v. Siegel 810 West End Ave v. Stern, s. 285

Decision Date20 March 1922
Docket NumberNos. 285,287,s. 285
Citation258 U.S. 242,42 S.Ct. 289,66 L.Ed. 595
PartiesEDGAR A. LEVY LEASING CO., Inc., v. SIEGEL. 810 WEST END AVE., Inc., v. STERN
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Mr. Louis Marshall, of New York City, for plaintiffs in error.

Messrs. Wm. D. Guthrie and Julius Henry Cohen, both of New York City, for joint Legislative Committee on Housing of New York Legislature.

Mr. Justice CLARKE delivered the opinion of the Court.

These two cases were argued and will be disposed of together.

A motion to dismiss or affirm was filed in each case, on the ground that each is ruled by the decision in Marcus Brown Holding Co., Inc., v. Feldman et al., 256 U. S. 170. 41 Sup. Ct. 465, 65 L. Ed. 877, and both were postponed to the hearing on the merits.

The essential question presented for decision in the Marcus Brown Co. Case was, and in these cases is, the constitutional validity of the Emergency Housing Laws of the State of New York, approved by the Governor September 27, 1920, chapters 942 to 953, inclusive, Laws of New York 1920.

By these acts a number of changes were made in the substantive law, and a number of amendments to remedial statutes, of the state, for the purpose of securing to tenants in possession of houses or apartments, occupied for dwelling purposes, in described cities, the legal right to continue in possession until November 1, 1922, by the payment, or securing the payment, of a reasonable rental, to be determined by the courts, and for the purpose also of encouraging the building of dwellings by providing under specified conditions for their exemption from local taxation.

In No. 285 it is alleged: That a described apartment was leased to the defendant from October 1, 1918, to October 1, 1920, at the stipulated rental of $1,450 per annum, payable in equal monthly installments in advance; that while in possession under that lease in June, 1920, the defendant executed a new lease for two years, beginning on the expiration of the former one on October 1, 1920, at a rental increased to $2,160, payable in equal monthly installments in advance; and that he refuses to pay the installment due on October 1, 1920. Judgment for the one month's rent is prayed for.

The defendant admits the execution of the leases, as stated in the complaint, but avers that the second one was signed under the coercion and duress of threats of eviction, and that the rent stipulated for is 'unjust, unreasonable and oppressive.' He offers to pay the same amount of rent as was paid for the preceding month and asserts the right to continue in possession under the emergency acts. A motion for judgment on the pleadings presented the question of the constitutionality of chapter 944 of the Emergency Housing Laws and the state courts all held the chapter a constitutional and valid exercise of the police power.

In No. 287 it is averred: That the defendant is a tenant holding over after expiration of his lease; that he refuses to surrender possession as he stipulated in his lease to do, and that he claims the right to retain possession under chapters 942 and 947 of the Emergency Housing Laws, which suspend the right of action to recover possession except under specified conditions, which are not applicable. A general demurrer to this complaint presented the question of the constitutionality of chapters 942 and 947 of the laws assailed, and the state courts all sustained them as valid.

In terms the acts involved are 'emergency' statutes, and, designed as they were by the Legislature to promote the health, morality, comfort and peace of the people of the state, they are obviously a resort to the police power to promote the public welfare. They are a consistent interrelated group of acts essential to accomplish their professed purposes.

The warrant for this legislative resort to the police power was the conviction on the part of the state legislators that there existed in the larger cities of the state a social emergency, caused by an insufficient supply of dwelling houses and apartments, so grave that it constituted a serious menace to the health, morality, comfort, and even to the peace of a large part of the people of the state. That such an emergency, if it really existed, would sustain a resort, otherwise valid, to the police power for the purpose of dealing with it cannot be doubted, for, unless relieved, the public welfare would suffer in respects which constitute the primary and undisputed, as well as the most usual basis and justification, for exercise of that power.

In the enactment of these laws the Legislature of New York did not depend on the knowledge which its members had of the existence of the crises relied upon. In January, 1919, almost two years before the laws complained of were enacted, the Governor of the state appointed a 'Reconstruction Commission,' and about the same time the Legislature appointed a committee known as the 'Joint Legislative Committee on Housing,' to investigate and report upon housing conditions in the cities of the state, and a few months later the mayor of New York appointed a similar committee. The membership of these committees comprised many men and women representative of the best intelligence, character, and public service in the state and nation, their investigations were elaborate and thorough, and in their reports, placed before the Legislature all agree: That there was a very great shortage in dwelling house accommodations in the cities of the state to which the acts apply; that this condition was causing widespread distress; that extortion in most oppressive forms was flagrant in rent profiteering; that, for the purpose of increasing rents, legal process was being abused and eviction was being resorted to as never before; and that unreasonable and extortionate increases of rent had frequently resulted in two or more families being obliged to occupy an apartment adequate only for one family, with a consequent overcrowding, which was resulting in insanitary conditions, disease, immorality, discomfort, and widespread social discontent.

If this court were disposed, as it is not, to ignore the notorious fact that a grave social problem has arisen from the insufficient supply of dwellings in all large cities of this and other countries, resulting from the cessation of building activities, incident to the war, nevertheless, these reports and the very great respect which courts must give to the legislative declaration that an emergency existed would be amply sufficient to sustain an appropriate resort to the police power for the purpose of dealing with it in the public interest.

The argument heard in these cases and further examination of the subject confirms us in the assumption made in the Marcus Brown Co. Case, 256 U. S. 170, 198, 41 Sup. Ct. 465, 65 L. Ed. 877, that the emergency declared existed when the acts were passed.

It is strenuously argued, as it was in Block v. Hirsh, 256 U. S. 135, 41 Sup. Ct. 458, 65 L. Ed. 865, and in the Marcus Brown Co. Case, supra, that the relation of landlord and tenant is a private one, and is not so affected by a public interest as to render it subject to regulation by the exercise of the police power.

It is not necessary to discuss this contention at length for so early as 1906, the Tenement House Act of New York, enacted in 1901 (Laws 1901, c. 334), was assailed as an unconstitutional interference with the right of property in land on substantially all of the grounds now urged against the Emergency Housing Laws, this court, in a per curiam opinion affirmed a decree of the...

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    ...term "unconscionably excessive price" is no more vague than the terms "unjust and unreasonable rents" (Edgar A. Levy Leasing Co. v. Siegel, 258 U.S. 242, 42 S.Ct. 289, 66 L.Ed. 595); "unreasonably low prices" (United States v. National Dairy Products Corp., 372 U.S. 29, 83 S.Ct. 594, 9 L.Ed......
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    ...be controlled in the absence of an 'emergency' which the trial court defined in the language of Levy Leasing Co. v. Siegel (1922) 258 U.S. 242, 245, 42 S.Ct. 289, 290, 66 L.Ed. 595, as a condition 'so grave that it constitute(s) a serious menace to the health, morality, comfort, and even to......
  • Birkenfeld v. City of Berkeley
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    ...184 N.E.2d 569; see also Marcus Brown Co. v. Feldman (1921) 256 U.S. 170, 41 S.Ct. 465, 65 L.Ed. 877, and Levy Leasing Co. v. Siegel (1922) 258 U.S. 242, 42 S.Ct. 289, 66 L.Ed. 595, involving constitutionality of New York rent control laws; see also, Israel v. City Rent and Rehabilitation A......
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