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UNITED STATES v. ROBERTS

February 8, 1952

UNITED STATES
v.
ROBERTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: GOURLEY

This matter comes before this court on a complaint filed by the United States of America pursuant to the Federal Housing and Rent Act of 1947, as amended, 50 U.S.C.A.Appendix, § 1881 et seq., alleging that the defendant violated the Act and the regulations issued thereunder in that he threatened and attempted to bring about the removal of the tenant from housing accommodations covered by the Act by making the premises uninhabitable.

A temporary restraining order was issued by the Court and served upon the defendant. Hearing on the prayer of the plaintiff for a preliminary injunction was begun on January 8, 1952 and concluded on January 11, 1952. It was stipulated in open court between counsel for the parties that the hearing on preliminary injunction should be treated as a final hearing in the case and that the testimony taken in said hearing shall be treated as taken on final hearing.

 Government contends that defendant had engaged in a course of conduct designed to bring about the unlawful removal of the tenant from the premises by indirect means through making the premises uninhabitable for lack of heat and other facilities. This action, after previous attempts by the owner to obtain possession from the tenant through the Area Rent Office, was rejected for bad faith and for the additional reason that the owner had failed to submit evidence to meet the requirements of the Regulation where eviction of three tenants in the structure was sought upon the alleged ground of substantial alterations and remodeling.

 Section 206(b) of the Federal Housing and Rent Act of 1947, as amended, provides: 'Whenever in the judgment of the President any person has engaged or is about to engage in any acts or practices which constitute or will constitute a violation of any provisions of this Act, or any regulation or order issued thereunder, the United States may make application to any Federal, State, or Territorial court of competent jurisdiction for an order enjoining such acts or practices, or for an order enforcing compliance with such provision, and upon a showing that such person has engaged or is about to engage in any such acts or practices a permanent or temporary injunction, restraining order, or other order shall be granted without bond.' (Italics supplied.)

 The authority of the President as set forth in the above quotation has been delegated by various executive orders to the Director of the Office of Rent Stabilization who was formerly known as the Housing Expediter in the 1950 version of the Act. (The change in the name of the agency and the title of its director results from the fact that the Office of the Housing Expediter has been incorporated, by the Defense Production Act of 1951, as one of the constituent agencies of the Economic Stabilization Agency which, in turn, is under the authority of the Defense Mobilizer who, in turn, derives his authority from the President.)

 The above quoted wording is identical with the corresponding provision of the Emergency Price Control Act, 50 U.S.C.A.Appendix, § 901 et seq., under which Rent Control was administered prior to the enactment, in 1947, of the Housing and Rent Act.

 The United States Supreme Court has recognized the authority of the Housing Administrator to invoke the jurisdiction of the District Court to enjoin acts and practices made illegal by the Act to enforce compliance with the Act. Such jurisdiction is equitable.

 Unless otherwise provided by statute, all the inherent equitable powers of the District Court are available for the proper and complete exercise of that jurisdiction and since the public interest is involved in a proceeding of this nature, those equitable powers assume an even broader and more flexible character than when only a private controversy is at stake. Power is thereby resident in the District Court, in exercising this jurisdiction, to do equity and to mould each decree to the necessities of the particular case. Porter v. Warner Holding Company, 328 U.S. 395, 66 S. Ct. 1086, 90 L. Ed. 1332.

 District Courts in various parts of the country have ruled that an affirmative, mandatory order requiring a landlord to repair or replace heating facilities or other equipment which he is obligated to provide with housing accommodations in return for the maximum legal rent, is within the jurisdiction of such Courts and such orders have been made. Woods v. Loab Estates, Inc., D.C., 81 F.Supp. 768; U.S.A. v. Claude J. Gallagher, *fn1" District Court of the U.S. for District of Minnesota, Third Division, No. 1911 Civil; Woods v. Mary L. Markey, *fn1" District Court of the U.S. for District of Minnesota, Fourth Division, No. 2899 Civil; Woods v. Thomas R. Ross and Robert Ross, *fn1" District Court of the U.S. for District of Massachusetts, No. 7769 Civil; Woods v. W. M. Bell and Van Court Rental Agency, *fn1" District Court of the U.S. for Western District of Tennessee, No. 1410 Civil.

 To deny a family livable quarters through artifice and indirection is tantamount to an illegal eviction. I cannot permit any legal niceties to explain away the grim reality of a family exposed to cold and sickness, and the accompanying peril which such circumstances pose to the community.

 If a landlord can dismantle the heating facilities of a dwelling with impunity, what is to prevent him from removing the doors or windows, or ripping out the steps up which the tenant must pass?

 The weight of the testimony, and the inferences to be drawn therefrom, has convinced me that the defendant adopted a systematic scheme to oust the tenant in violation of the Federal Housing and Rent Act of 1947, as amended, and the Regulations promulgated thereunder.

 It might be well to state that the defendant's financial condition was such that he would not have suffered any financial embarrassment in making the necessary repairs to said furnace instead of dismantling and removing the heating unit, and it goes without saying that the ...


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