Queenside Hills Realty Co v. Saxl

Citation328 U.S. 80,66 S.Ct. 850,90 L.Ed. 1096
Decision Date22 April 1946
Docket NumberNo. 769,769
PartiesQUEENSIDE HILLS REALTY CO., Inc., v. SAXL, Com'r of Housing and Buildings of City of New York
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Appeal from the Court of Appeals of the State of New York.

Mr. George G. Lake, of New York City, for appellant.

Mr. Edward G. Griffin, of New York City, for appellee.

Mr. Justice DOUGLAS delivered the opinion of the Court.

In 1940 appellant constructed a four story building on the Bowery in New York City and since that time has operated it as a lodging house. It was constructed so as to comply with all the laws applicable to such lodging houses and in force at that time. New York amended its Multiple Dwelling Law1 in 1944,2 providing, inter alia, that lodging houses 'of non-fireproof construction existing prior to the enactment of this subdivision'3 should comply with certain new requirements.4 Among these was the installation of an automatic wet pipe sprinkler system. Appellant received notice to comply with the new requirements and thereupon instituted this suit in the New York courts for a declaratory judgment holding these provisions of the 1944 law unconstitutional and restraining their enforcement.

The bill alleged that the building was safe for occupancy as a lodging house and did not constitute a fire hazard or a danger to the occupants; that it complied with all building laws and regulations at the time of its construction; that part of it was fireproof and that the rest was so constructed as not to be dangerous to occupants; that the regulations existing prior to 1944 were adequate and sufficient to prevent loss of life in lodging houses of this particular type. It was further alleged that this lodging house has a market value of about $25,000, that the cost of complying with the 1944 law would be about $7,500; and that the benefits to be obtained by the changes were negligible. By reason of those circumstances the 1944 law was alleged to violate the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. It was also alleged to iolate the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment since it was applicable to lodging houses 'existing' prior to the 1944 law but not to identical structures erected thereafter. Appellee answered, denying the material allegations of the bill, and moved to dismiss. The Supreme Court granted the motion. The Appellate Division affirmed without opinion. Queenside Hills Realty Co. v. Wilson, 269 App.Div. 691, 54 N.Y.S2d 394. On appeal to the Court of Appeals the judgment was likewise affirmed without opinion. Id., 294 N.Y. 917, 63 N.E.2d 116. The case is here on appeal, the Court of Appeals having certified by its remittitur that questions involving the Fourteenth Amendment were presented and necessarily passed upon. Id., 295 N.Y. 567, 64 N.E.2d 278.

Little need be said on the due process question. We are not concerned with the wisdom of this legislation or the need for it. Olsen v. Nebraska, 313 U.S. 236, 246, 61 S.Ct. 862, 865, 85 L.Ed. 1305, 133 A.L.R. 1500. Protection of the safety of persons is one of the traditional uses of the police power of the States. Experts may differ as to the most appropriate way of dealing with fire hazards in lodging houses. Appellant, indeed, says that its building far from being a fire-trap, is largely fireproof; and to the extent that any fire hazards exist, they are adequately safeguarded by a fire alarm system, constant watchman service, and other safety arrangements. But the legislature may choose not to take the chance that human life will be lost in lodging house fires and adopt the most conservative course which science and engineering offer. It is for the legislature to decide what regulations are needed to reduce fire hazards to the minimum. Many types of social legislation diminish the value of the property which is regulated. The extreme cases are those where in the interest of the public safety or welfare the owner is prohibited from using his property. Reinman v. Little Rock, 237 U.S. 171, 35 S.Ct. 511, 59 L.Ed. 900; Hadacheck v. Sebastian, 239 U.S. 394, 36 S.Ct. 143, 60 L.Ed. 348, Ann.Cas.1917B, 927; Pierce Oil Corp. v. Hope, 248 U.S. 498, 39 S.Ct. 172, 63 L.Ed. 381. We are dealing here with a less drastic measure. But in no case does the owner of property acquire immunity against exercise of the police power because he constructed it in full compliance with the existing laws. Hadacheck v. Sebastian, supra, 239 U.S. at page 410, 36 S.Ct. at page 145, 60 L.Ed. 348, Ann.Cas.1917B, 927. And see Chicago, B. & Q.R. Co. v. Nebraska, 170 U.S. 57, 18 S.Ct. 513, 42 L.Ed. 948; Hutchinson v. Valdosta, 227 U.S. 303, 33 S.Ct. 290, 57 L.Ed. 520. The police power is one of the least limitable of governmental powers, and in its operation often cuts down property rights. Block v. Hirsh, 256 U.S. 135, 155, 41 S.Ct. 458, 459, 65 L.Ed. 865, 16 A.L.R. 165. And see Plymouth Coal Co. v. Pennsylvania, 232 U.S. 531, 34 S.Ct. 359, 58 L.Ed. 713. Appellant may have a lodging house far less hazardous than the other existing structures regulated by the 1944 law. Yet a statute may be sustained through some of the objects affected by it may be wholly innocent. Purity Extract & Tonic Co. v. Lynch, 226 U.S. 192, 204, 33 S.Ct. 44, 47, 57 L.Ed. 184. The question of validity turns on the power of the legislature to deal with the prescribed class. That power plainly exists here.

Appellant's claim of lack of equal...

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    ...691, 694-695; City of Seattle v. Hinckley, 40 Wash. 468, 82 P. 747, 748-749, 2 L.R.A., N.S., 398; Queenside Hills Realty Co. v. Saxl, 328 U.S. 80, 82-83, 66 S.Ct. 850, 90 L.Ed. 1096; 7 McQuillin, Municipal Corporations (3d ed. 1949) § 24-512, p. 497.) The rationale underlying this principle......
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    ...to impose reasonable regulations upon private property rights to serve the larger public good. (Queenside Hills Realty Co. v. Saxl (1946) 328 U.S. 80, 82--83, 66 S.Ct. 850, 90 L.Ed. 1096; Clemons v. City of Los Angeles (1950)36 Cal.2d 96, 102, 222 P.2d 439.) Moreover, this can be accomplish......
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    ...Ann.Cas. 1175; Nebbia v. New York, 291 U.S. 502, 525, 54 S.Ct. 505, 510, 78 L.Ed. 940, 89 A.L.R. 1469; Queenside Hills Realty Co. v. Saxl, 328 U.S. 80, 82, 66 S.Ct. 850, 851, 90 L.Ed. 1096. 5 The Court of Errors and Appeals was cognizant of the difficulties. Evening Times Printing & Publish......
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    ...map.” Rick Hampson, Zoning Hammer Cuts Tower Down to Size , Chi. Trib., May 2, 1993, at 2R. 2. In Queenside Hills Realty Co. v. Saxl, 328 U.S. 80, 83 (1946), the appellant had operated a lodging house since 1940. It was constructed in compliance with all existing laws, but in 1944 New York ......
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