The Rent Control Trilogy

On this date thirty-nine years ago, the Supreme Court decided three seminal rent conrol cases, which have come to be known as the “rent control trilogy.”  Troy Hills Village v. Parsippany-Troy Hills Tp. Council, 68 N.J. 604 (1975); Brunetti v. Borough of New Milford, 68 N.J. 576 (1975); Hutton Park Gardens v. West Orange Town Council, 68 N.J. 543 (1975).  All three cases involved numerous constitutional challenges to rent control ordinances in the respective municipalities.  The Court unanimously rebuffed all those challenges, with Justice Pashman writing for the Court in all three cases.  In two of the cases, Troy Hills and Hutton Park, Justice Clifford and Judge Conford filed opinions concurring in the result.

These three opinions remain the definitive discussion of the constitutionality of rent control, an issue that landlords attempt to raise periodically, and anyone who has any involvement in a rent control matter needs to be familiar with these decisions.  Justice Pashman’s conclusion that the rent control regimes at issue were not confiscatory, did not violate substantive due process, and need not have been founded on a declaration of emergency has made subsequent challenges to rent control difficult to raise.  Despite the rent control trilogy, rent control ordinances that go too far are subject to invalidation, so it is likely that landlords will continue to challenge rent control provisions, though it is also likely that such challenges will rarely succeed.

Brunetti is also notable for its discussion of the 45-day statute of limitations period for challenging municipal ordinances, imposed by Rule 4:69-6, and for its analysis of the doctrine of exhaustion of remedies.  Of the three cases that comprise this trilogy, Brunetti is the most often cited, usually for one or both of those procedural principles.