BLOCK V. HIRSCH, 256 U. S. 135 (1921)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Block v. Hirsch, 256 U.S. 135 (1921)

Block v. Hirsch

No. 640

Argued March 3, 1921

Decided April 18, 1921

256 U.S. 135


The Act of October 22, 1919, c. 80, Title II, 41 Stat. 297, created a commission with power, upon notice and hearing, to determine whether the rent, service and other terms and conditions of the use and occupancy of apartments, hotels and other rental property in the District of Columbia, were fair and reasonable and, if found otherwise, to fix fair and reasonable rents, etc., in lieu; it provided that a tenant's right of occupancy should, at his option, continue, notwithstanding the expiration of his term, subject to regulation by the commission, so long as he paid the rent and performed the conditions fixed by his lease or as modified by the commission; reserved, however, to the owner his right to possession for actual bona fide occupancy by himself, his wife, children or dependents, upon giving

Page 256 U. S. 136

a 30 days' notice to quit; made the commission's findings conclusive on matters of fact, but reviewable by the Court of Appeals of the District on matters of law; limited the regulation thus established to a period of two years, and declared that its provisions were made necessary by emergencies growing out of the War, resulting in rental conditions dangerous to the public health and burdensome to public officers, employees and accessories, and thereby embarrassing the Federal Government in the transaction of the public business. In an action in which an owner, ignoring this legislation, and without serving the required notice, sought to oust a tenant, holding over in violation of a lease made before the act was passed, and in which the act was relied on by the tenant, particularly its requirement of notice, but was declared unconstitutional by the court below --

Held: (1) That the legislative declaration of facts affording the ground for the regulation was entitled to great respect, and was confirmed by common knowledge. P. 256 U. S. 154.

(2) That the exigency existing in the District clothed the letting of buildings there with a public interest so great as to justify regulation by law, i.e., by the police power of Congress -- while such exigency lasts. P. 256 U. S. 155.

(3) That, assuming the owner in this case did not desire the premises for his own use (as it might have turned out if the entire law had not been declared void) and treating the property as held for rent, the effect of the act, in allowing the tenant to retain possession at the rent stipulated in the expired lease or as it might be modified by the commission, was not, under the circumstances, an unconstitutional restriction of the owner's dominion and right of contract or a taking of his property for a use not public. P. 256 U. S. 156.

(4) That such regulation was justified as a temporary measure, even though it might not be as a permanent change. P. 256 U. S. 157.

(5) That it did not become otherwise if the "reasonable rent" it secured meant depriving the owner, in part at least, of the power of profiting by the sudden influx of people to Washington, caused by the needs of the Government and the War. P. 256 U. S. 157.

(6) That the preference given to the tenant in possession was justified as an incident of the policy of the legislation. P. 256 U. S. 157.

(7) That, the end being legitimate and the means reasonably related to it, the wisdom of the means was not for the courts to pass upon. P. 256 U. S. 158.

(8) That the court was not prepared to say in this case that the law, being valid in its principal aspects, was invalid insofar as it might operate to deprive landlords and tenants of trial by jury on the right to possession. P. 256 U. S. 158.

50 App.D.C. 56, 73; 267 Fed. Rep. 614, 631, reversed.

Page 256 U. S. 137

ERROR to review a judgment of the court below holding unconstitutional the act regulating rents, etc., in the District of Columbia, in proceedings by a landlord to oust a tenant holding over. The facts are stated in the opinion.

Page 256 U. S. 153

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