Delaware man wins his battle against eminent domain
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Posted by Howard Rich | News
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| Friday 30 April 2010 12:54 PM

From The Tulsa Beacon

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The Sam Adams Alliance has awarded one of its annual “Sammie” awards to Ed Osborne, an auto repair shop owner in Wilmington, Delaware, who fought a three-year long battle to save his property from being taken by eminent domain and his drive to enact legislation that protects others from becoming victims in the same way that he was.

The Alliance was founded in 2006 and has been making its annual award since 2007. Their website states, “Our mission is to help Americans understand free-market-based principles and policies, and to help ensure the vision of Sam Adams and our Founding Fathers flourishes in the 21st Century.” They take their inspiration from Sam Adams, who fostered a popular movement against the British by encouraging grassroots communications between colonists.

Ed Osborne was one of six people who were awarded a 2010 Sammie award. Their website said that he had won the award “for his vigorous defense of property rights against eminent domain in Delaware. Osborne gained his notoriety as an activist when he and 61 other Wilmington business owners received notification that their businesses were on the city’s property acquisition list. Osborne resisted government offers for his land, and instead went on to lead a three-year battle in the Delaware General Assembly for legislation against eminent domain abuse. Despite heavy opposition and a gubernatorial veto, the legislation eventually passed, and transformed Delaware’s once-vulnerable property rights environment into one that protects private ownership.”

The boldness behind Wilmington’s attempt to seize Osborne’s property in order to give it to a private developer was inspired by the Supreme Court’s Kelo vs. New London case, in which Suzette Kilo and others lost their homes to a developer who was going to build offices and a hotel to support the presence of pharmaceutical giant Pfizer. Reportedly, $78 million was spent to remove the homes, but, in 2009, Pfizer closed its facilities, leaving the bulldozed area vacant.

Wilmington wanted the 62 properties, most of which were closed businesses, for their South Walnut Street Renovation Plan, which would have given the property to a developer. Osborne had invested his business in the area since 1994, and because it was a high-crime area, had taken the risk to do so when few others would.

Osborne first learned that his property was going to be taken when he received a condemnation notice. Neither the city or the developer had offered to purchase his property prior to the condemnation notice.

Osborne sued, stating that his rights had been violated because he was not being offered fair compensation, and because the use of his property would be for a private, not public, use.

As a result of Osborne’s case, Senate Bill 245 was passed to define and restrict the use of eminent domain, but the governor vetoed it.

The law that eventually passed was Senate Bill 7, which amended their existing laws regarding eminent domain. The synopsis of the bill stated that “This bill requires state, county, or municipal governments or state agencies or other condemning entities to use their eminent domain authority solely for ‘public use’ and defines that term. The bill specifically states that benefits derived from economic development do not constitute a public use.” (emphasis mine.)

The bill itself states that “the policy of the provisions of this chapter pertaining to eminent domain is to ensure that eminent domain is used for a limited, defined public use. Public use does not include the generation of public revenues, increase in tax base, tax revenues, employment or economic health, through private land owners or economic development.” (Again, emphasis mine.)

The bill still allows the use of eminent domain for the removal of blighted areas or “slums,” as well as buildings that are unfit for human habitation or abandoned properties.

While it is gratifying that Osborne won against huge odds, there are many cases that aren’t won, or even fought against, because of lack of funding for legal defense, or lack of knowledge of laws or how to change them. Osborne proved that with endurance and resourcefulness the little guy can be successful, but the real answer is that much more legislation needs to be done to protect individual property rights in other states, including Oklahoma.

Goldman: Creeping Socialism Finds A Convenient Enemy
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Posted by Howard Rich | News
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| Thursday 29 April 2010 9:00 AM

By Howard Rich

In its quest to ram perpetual bank bailouts and draconian new government regulations through the U.S. Congress under the guise of “financial services reform,” the administration of Barack Obama and its allies have seized upon a convenient new enemy – Goldman Sachs.

Armed with a government lawsuit tailor-made to stoke populist headlines, Obama and his allies want to further force Washington’s tentacles into a financial industry that it ostensibly “rescued” using trillions of dollars borrowed from future generations of U.S. taxpayers.

“If we don’t change what led to the crisis, we’ll doom ourselves to repeat it,” Obama said recently in an article conveniently headlined “Charges Against Goldman Sachs Boost Case for Financial Reform.”

Yet in typical Washington fashion, Obama’s proposed “reforms” do nothing to address government’s starring role in the most recent debacle. Nor do they protect taxpayers from future raids on the public treasury. In fact, the legislation Obama is championing would maintain (and even expand) the same federal regulatory conditions and incentives that led to the collapse of the housing market in the first place – while making taxpayer-funded bailouts for financial institutions a permanent part of public policy.

In other words, Washington has learned absolutely nothing.

“The American public has a lot to be angry about, but the spark for that rage was the bank bailouts,” writes Mark A. Calabria, director of financial regulation studies at the Cato Institute.

And yet as Calabria and others have astutely observed, government’s solution to the sub-prime mess is to encourage the same loose lending practices that created it – particularly as it relates to government-owned behemoths Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, whose toxic assets helped sink Bear Stearns at the beginning of the current downturn. Accordingly, Obama’s reforms “wouldn’t bring stability to our financial system, but (would) further erode market discipline — while asking us to put all our faith in the same regulators who have failed repeatedly,” Calabria writes.

Ironically, the beleaguered Wall Street firm that Obama has selected to play the role of whipping boy in this process is a familiar “enemy,” having pumped $4.4 million into the coffers of Democratic candidates in 2008 (compared to $1.4 million for Republican candidates). Apparently, Goldman Sachs forgot the old adage about “not feeding the tiger in the hopes of being the last one eaten.”

All of this leads us to a fundamental question that must be asked (and answered) about our economy moving forward: Specifically, is it government’s job to assume the risk associated with bad business decisions? Or if you prefer to get even more Orwellian about it: Is it government’s job to arbitrarily restrict free market exchanges in an effort to prevent bad decisions from being made in the future?

If the government’s answer to either of those questions is “yes,” then it is embracing a Soviet-style command economy and repudiating the free market principles on which this nation was founded.

Finally, in assessing Obama’s populist push on “financial reform,” it would be wrong not to briefly mention the flimsiness of the federal case that’s at the forefront of literally tens of thousands of international headlines. At the heart of the SEC’s complaint against Goldman Sachs is the allegation that the firm misled a German bank into buying toxic assets at the behest of a savvy hedge fund manager. This simplistic salvo ignores two salient facts – Goldman’s $90 million loss on the deal as well as clear and compelling evidence that the German firm knew exactly what it was getting into.

In fact, just a year before the Goldman deal, the German bank referenced in the SEC filing was concluding similar agreements with other companies and bragging about its expertise in evaluating the very sort of “corporate loan portfolios” that it now claims it was misled into purchasing.

But as much as Obama and his allies are picking a fight against a convenient enemy, this debate isn’t about defending Goldman Sachs – it’s about defending the free market from additional government intervention.

Term limits
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Posted by Howard Rich | News
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| Wednesday 28 April 2010 12:46 PM

From The Great Falls Tribune

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I have been dismayed with the performance of the U.S. House and Senate for some time, as have the majority of American citizens. I keep hoping they will put partisanship aside, listen to the people who elected them rather than the lobbyists and do what is best for this country and its people.

The senators and representatives have voted themselves lucrative medical and retirement plans, collected huge sums from individuals and corporations for their campaign funds and, after a short time in Washington, seem more focused on partisanship and the next election rather than the peoples’ business.

Some say the periodic election process will cure this predicament, but when people are elected again and again for up to 50 years — and some have been carried in and out of the chambers or cannot speak competently from the podium — I say it’s time to change the rules.

The presidency has term limits. State governors have term limits, as do our state legislators. These limits are working well, no matter what the politicians say. Nobody is irreplaceable. This is the only legal solution I can think of to get Congress back to being more responsive and responsible to the American people.

I know the elected officials will not vote themselves term limits, so it’s up to the electorate to begin the process of change.

Boston City Charter reform is overdue
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Posted by Howard Rich | Issues
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, Term Limits
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| Tuesday 27 April 2010 4:48 PM

From South End News

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Boston’s City Charter needs an overhaul. Except for the switch from an elected to an appointed school committee in the 1990s, little has changed for 60 years. A few ambitious city councilors interested in mayoral term limits have begun a more comprehensive look at the Charter; and many neighborhood residents have been calling for reforms as well.

The first meeting of a new Council committee on Charter reform was held on April 12. Present were Councilors John Tobin, chair, Michael Ross, Council president, Maureen Feeney, Bill Linehan, Mark Ciommo, and among the observers, Sam Tyler of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau. This preliminary discussion was about the reform process (Commission? Legislation? Referendum? Public outreach?) and scope.

Interestingly, Ross suggested a look at how the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) relates to the City Council. Unfortunately, the councilors have in the past voted, out of ignorance or complicity, to hand their powers to the BRA, which now relates to them like a dust cloud on a distant planet. When I told Ross about the BRA’s taking of City land by eminent domain without compensation, he laughed, “Well, the BRA’s gotta eat too, ya know.” He says the BRA should disclose all its public records, but does nothing to make it happen. We’ll see what he has in mind.

Feeney raised a question about the need for legislative approval of Charter reforms, opining that the City should be more independent of the state. (Feeney had led the Council’s effort to exempt itself from the state’s Open Meeting Law.) True, some decisions probably could reasonably be shifted to the city, e.g., liquor licensing. But increased City independence and Council power should be considered only as means toward a more democratic and accountable City government.

The committee decided to hold a public hearing, inviting speakers knowledgeable about the Charter’s history and intent, and allowing public testimony about reform ideas. This hearing would be followed by several months of deliberations by the Council committee in further public meetings, and probably the creation of a formal Charter commission, with the resources and expertise to perform the work.

There is a “Plain English” distillation of the Charter (scroll to the end), which is very helpful for citizens who would like to participate in the reform effort and are daunted by the legalese of the version posted online. And “Boston Bound,” a report issued by The Boston Foundation, is a good companion reader on charter and home rule history and processes. Inform thyself, dear reader, and send your suggestions to john.tobin@cityofboston.gov.

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Here are my early thoughts on making city government more accountable and more representative:

*Term limits should be imposed for both the mayor and city councilors.

*All City Council votes should require roll call votes; no more vague mumbling of the crowd. (Actually, this provision is already there, but the councilors and the city clerk ignore it.)

*Every Council vote involving a loan, expenditure or appropriation of money must be approved by the mayor to become law; no override is possible. This should be changed to allow a supermajority override. Interestingly, the Council can override a mayoral veto with a two-thirds supermajority on other issues. So it appears that the Council could refuse to grant corporate tax breaks, and stop conveyance of City land to the BRA.

*The mayor or his chiefs can talk to the City Council at any time. I believe that usually consists of serial one-to-one discussions, rather than formally convened meetings, which would subject to the Open Meeting Law. The charter should require that this communication be in formal session.

*The Council can ask the mayor to appear before them for questioning; but I’ve never known this to happen. It should be required for certain issues involving money, civil rights, education, etc.

*Ballot access should be made easier; the number of nominating signatures required is a hurdle that incumbents have raised to discourage new faces on the political scene, and it should be lower. Mayoral candidates need 3,000 signatures; by law that requirement could be as low as 1,500. New York City requires 7,500 for a population of eight million; at that rate, Boston would require only 560. Springfield requires 500, for a population of 150,000; at that rate, we’d need only 2,000. State representatives need only 150, state senators 300, representatives to Congress representing a 10th of the state, just about the same population as Boston, only 2,000. Senators, representing half the state, or 3.25 million citizens, need 10,000; at this rate, Boston’s mayor, representing a population less than one fifth that of the state, should need fewer than 2,000. City Council nomination requirements have also been manipulated; At-Large Councilor Steve Murphy got the 500-signature requirement raised to 1,500.

*And signers should be expressly allowed to sign any number of candidates’ nomination papers. In effect, they can now; their name counts for the first candidate who submits it and still needs it to qualify, and their excess signatures can help newer candidates break in. But the election department doesn’t tell them that; the petitions sheets instruct people to sign for only one mayoral, one district and 4 at-large council candidates. This advantages incumbents with field machines that can reach signers early.

*To improve voter turnout and save administrative costs, City elections should be synchronized to state election years.

*Mayoral appointments of department heads and City boards (except the school committee) should require City Council ratification.

*The Finance Commission funding only guarantees the stipend of the chair. As a result, this excellent watchdog agency is deliberately starved by the mayor, to disable its investigative capacity. It should be properly funded based on a percent of the budget; it will more than pay for itself through reduced waste, fraud and abuse.

*The selection of the 13-member nominating panel for school committee members, from which the mayor selects appointees, is supposed to be a public process, but it is done in secret, and controlled by mayoral foot-soldiers. They load the committee with obedient members who will support the mayor’s agenda, including charter schools, administrative bloat, and budget-starving tax breaks to corporations. Putting past history aside, the school committee, holding sway over our children’s future and almost half our City budget, should be independently elected to represent the interest of the citizenry, not the business interests or the politicians.

Many other reforms are needed – but now, dear reader, it’s your turn. Send your suggestions to John Tobin – and remind him to schedule that public hearing.

Government plans to seize farm land from family
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Posted by Howard Rich | News
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| Monday 26 April 2010 4:06 PM

From WCAX

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The federal government is taking a Franklin County farm family to court. The Department of Homeland Security is threatening to take part of their land through eminent domain to increase border security.

The Rainville’s say the move will put them out of business.

The Department of Homeland Security wants to expand its outdated and crumbling border station at Morses Line. Originally the government was in need of 10 acres. But after further review, which revealed only 40 cars use the port each day on average, scaled the project back to 5 acres.

“They are pitching this as a stimulus project, putting my family out of business is not economic development,” said Rainville.

The Rainvilles say the plot of land is crucial to their farm. They use it to produce hay for their dairy cows, and the layout of their 224 acre farm prevents them from moving the hay field elsewhere. The government has offered the farm family $30,000 for the land.

“We have never sold one acre for development. My father wanted to build a new house for my mother in 1968 when they got married. My grandfather said we grow hay here,” said Rainville.

Since the Rainvilles refuse to sell the land, the government is now moving forward with plans to take it thru eminent domain. According to a letter from the Department of Homeland Security, failing to fortify one port of entry weakens the entire national security system.

“To be put out of business because somebody wants a new building for 2 1/2 cars an hour, you can’t justify that,” responded Rainville.

Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy understands the importance of improving border security across the nation. Even though the project has been scaled way back, Leahy still questions why the government wants to spend millions of dollars in stimulus money to expand this border station.

“There’s a lot of things that are funded by stimulus money that make a great deal of sense, I don’t see where this adds jobs, I don’t see where this does anything to help us, I don’t think this does anything to improve the security of the country,” said Leahy.

With the government ready to condemn the land, the Rainvilles are now preparing for a legal battle.

“If DHS wants to take us into the courtroom, they gotta show a public good, and a public need for this project, and their own documents don’t support them,” said Rainville.

Matt Henson – WCAX-TV

School Choice adopted for coming school year
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Posted by Howard Rich | News
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| Thursday 22 April 2010 3:25 PM

From Wicked Local

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MATTAPOISETT —The Old Rochester Regional School Committee once again opted in to the Commonwealth’s School Choice program for the 2010-2011 school year (see sidebar). The high school will have 22 seats, of which 10 are already filled. The junior high school will have five seats in grade seven, and five seats in grade eight. Two of the grade eight seats are already occupied.

The committee also approved a new policy on School Choice, under the Interdistrict School Choice Law (M.G.L. Chapter 76, Section 12B), which provides that by May 1 of each year, the District will determine the number of seats to be available to School Choice students. The policy also provides that if the District is considering opting out of School Choice, that each year by June 1, it will hold a public meeting regarding such decision. The policy provides that when the number of requests from out-of-district students exceeds the number of available seats, selection will be by two random drawings, one during the last week of the school year, but no later than July 1, and the other in the week immediately preceding the opening of the new school year, based on the possibility of unexpected additional seats.

The new policy states that any student accepted for enrollment under School Choice is entitled to remain enrolled in the District until graduation from high school, except for disciplinary reasons or if School Choice is not adequately funded. Siblings of out-of-district students enrolled in the District will receive priority for admission.

Enact bonded term limits
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Posted by Howard Rich | Issues
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, Term Limits
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| Wednesday 21 April 2010 2:54 PM

From The Daily Caller

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As the mid-term elections approach, there is growing talk of one of the oldest and most bipartisan issues in the country; Congressional term limits. There is little doubt that our current unlimited system encourages incumbency, and that it distributes undue power to career politicians. And in order to be competitive, even well-meaning legislators find themselves forced to make questionable compromises, not with those on the other side of the aisle, but rather with their own parties and the powerful interests that provide critical support for their re-elections. Term limits seek to break up that power structure and fundamentally change government itself.

Unfortunately, imposing term limits requires an amendment to the Constitution. And since that requires the support of two thirds of Congress, it is an unlikely prospect at best. Voters need to know that it will take much more than campaign promises to make it a reality.

Many still remember the 1994 wave of Republicans who swept into office with personal pledges of self-imposed term limits, and a unified commitment to the ‘Contract for America’. One of the key elements of the contract was a pledge to vote for a term limits amendment. In the end, they avoided passing it and the vast majority went on to break their personal pledges to the American voters. Be wary of all politicians, but particularly those making promises of term limits.

The bipartisan Alliance for Bonded Term Limits is trying to change that, and has come up with a unique solution that requires candidates to back up their term limits pledges with a substantial amount of their own personal assets. If a candidate makes a pledge and then seeks to serve longer than agreed, they are legally required to forfeit the assets to a charity of their choosing. This demonstrates to voters not only their commitment to term limits, but more importantly their commitment to their word.

I’m proud to be the first Democrat and the first U.S. Senate candidate in the nation to make such a pledge. Specifically, I have committed to donate $150,000 to the Malama Kai Foundation if I seek to serve more than two terms in office. I hope this step will encourage other candidates to follow my lead, and I am specifically calling on each of Hawaii’s candidates in next month’s special election to do the same. With the fourth longest serving Senator in history, Hawaii has a unique opportunity to draw attention to this critical issue and lead the nation towards a new era of citizen legislators who are eager to serve and then return home to live under the laws they have created.

Andy Woerner is a candidate for U.S. Senate in Hawaii.

Curbing abuse of eminent domain
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Posted by Howard Rich | Issues
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, Property Rights
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| Monday 19 April 2010 11:17 AM

From The Denver Post

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A new state law signed by the governor last week will curb some of the egregious abuses of eminent domain law in which government declares farmland to be “blighted” and then forcibly buys it from unwilling sellers for urban renewal.

It’s the type of eminent domain reform that is long overdue, and we hope it will offer protections to landowners from governments that have designs on their property.

But we have concerns about the exception the new law makes for enclaves — agricultural land that is surrounded by other developed property — since this is frequently the land that needs the most protection.

And this latest tweaking of state condemnation law, one of many piecemeal revisions in the last decade, makes us think a comprehensive look at eminent domain laws is in order to see whether they should be overhauled.

We don’t, however, want to overlook the protections that House Bill 1107, signed by Gov. Bill Ritter on Wednesday, will offer against the conversion of farms into strip malls at taxpayer expense.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Lamar, and Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, was helped by broad support from farmers, environmentalists, local governments and local planners. Some of the most outrageous examples of eminent domain usage occur when government, which wants to sweeten the deal for developers, uses its powers of condemnation to forcibly purchase agricultural land so it can be made part of a package to coax retail development.

Though governments will routinely deny it, the heavy reliance on sales tax for government revenue — generated by high-volume retail — has motivated local governments to abuse their eminent domain powers.

Let’s put it this way: You’re going to collect a heck of a lot more in sales tax revenue from a Wal-Mart than from a corn field.

The new law says land that has been classified by the county assessor as agricultural land cannot be condemned for urban renewal. However, it makes an exception for agricultural land that is an enclave within cities and has had development around it for at least three years.

We will have to see how the law shakes out in the coming years, but that seems to be an awfully big exception. That’s exactly the kind of land that usually needs the most protection from government.

Eminent domain laws have been tweaked in a piecemeal fashion over the years, and it may be beneficial to examine whether the changes all work together and present a coherent body of law that doesn’t contain conflicts.

Eminent domain is a strong government power that ought to be used only as a last resort to resurrect downtrodden inner cities. If governments continue to stray beyond that mission, lawmakers must take steps to stop them.

Letter: Vote out incumbents
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Posted by Howard Rich | Issues
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, Term Limits
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| Friday 16 April 2010 2:58 PM

From The Telegraph Herald

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It’s time all voters realize that our politicians are not listening to their constituents. To me this is the start of a dictatorship in that a few in Washington are doing what they want, and not what the people they represent want.

What we as voters need is term limits for all politicians in all levels of government. I know that term limits would never happen because our politicians in Washington, right down to our city governments, would not allow such a thing to happen. The answer is at every election for any political office to never vote for any incumbent, no matter if you are a Democrat, Independent, Republican or whatever.

This the only way to have term limits for all elected officials, and let them know that we, as voters, are in control and they need to listen and do what their constituents want.

Hoboken Landlords Attack Rent Control
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Posted by Howard Rich | Issues
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, Property Rights
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| Thursday 15 April 2010 11:39 AM

From BulidingBuyer.com

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Hoboken, NJ landlords have brought a due process challenge to local rent controls in State court. They were granted class action status yesterday.

The meat of the challenge is that the city rent leveling board administers the law badly. The law says that you can’t charge rent increases unless you file a vacancy form with the board. For years, however, the board didn’t publish a form and wouldn’t accept home made ones. A State Superior Court judge recently found the board’s practices unconstitutional in the case of a single landlord and this case is an effort to expand the ruling to the entire system.

Maybe New York is ripe for a similar challenge in the wake of the Roberts decision. It is reminiscent of the successful landlord challenges to the original Maximum Base Rent system back in the 70’s. When the state couldn’t approve rent increases unit by unit the way the law required, it was forced to develop an across the board percentage increase. Even New York’s highest court has called the rent stabilization and rent control laws an “impenetrable thicket.”

Discuss this and other issues in the owner forums at BuildingBuyer.com

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