Rent and Price Controls.

Even at a time when the Court was using substantive due process to void economic regulations, it generally sustained such regulations in wartime. Thus, shortly following the end of World War I, it sustained, by a narrow margin, a rent control law for the District of Columbia, which not only limited permissible rent increases but also permitted existing tenants to continue in occupancy provided they paid rent and observed other stipulated conditions.1776 Justice Holmes for the majority conceded in effect that in the absence of a war emergency the legislation might transcend constitutional limitations,1777 but noted that “a public exigency will justify the legislature in restricting property rights in land to a certain extent without compensation.”1778

During World War II and thereafter, economic controls were uniformly sustained.1779 An apartment house owner who complained that he was not allowed a “fair return” on the property was dismissed with the observation that “a nation which can demand the lives of its men and women in the waging of . . . war is under no constitutional necessity of providing a system of price control . . . which will assure each landlord a ‘fair return’ on his property.”1780 The Court also held that rental ceilings could be established without a prior hearing when the exigencies of national security precluded the delay which would ensue.1781

But, in another World War I case, the Court struck down a statute that penalized the making of “any unjust or unreasonable rate or charge in handling . . . any necessaries”1782 as repugnant to the Fifth and Sixth Amendments in that it was so vague and indefinite that it denied due process and failed to give adequate notice of what acts would violate it.1783

Footnotes

1776
Block v. Hirsh, 256 U.S. 135 (1921). [Back to text]
1777
But quaere in the light of Nebbia v. New York, 291 U.S. 502 (1934), Olsen v. Nebraska ex rel. Western Reference and Bond Ass’n, 313 U.S. 236 (1941), and their progeny. [Back to text]
1778
Block v. Hirsh, 256 U.S. 135, 156 (1921). [Back to text]
1779
Yakus v. United States, 321 U.S. 414 (1944); Bowles v. Willingham, 321 U.S. 503 (1944); Lockerty v. Phillips, 319 U.S. 182 (1943); Fleming v. Mohawk Wrecking & Lumber Co., 331 U.S. 111 (1947); Lichter v. United States, 334 U.S. 742 (1948). [Back to text]
1780
Bowles v. Willingham, 321 U.S. 503, 519 (1944). [Back to text]
1781
321 U.S. at 521. The Court stressed, however, that Congress had provided for judicial review after the regulations and orders were made effective. [Back to text]
1782
Act of October 22, 1919, 2, 41 Stat. 297. [Back to text]
1783
United States v. L. Cohen Grocery Co., 255 U.S. 81 (1921). [Back to text]