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DEPAUL ET AL. v. KAUFFMAN (01/07/71)

decided: January 7, 1971.

DEPAUL ET AL., APPELLANTS,
v.
KAUFFMAN



Appeal from decree of Court of Common Pleas, Trial Division, of Philadelphia, Oct. T., 1968, No. 1045, in case of Peter DePaul et al. v. Samuel Kauffman.

COUNSEL

Robert L. Franklin, with him Harry P. Voldow, for appellants.

Charles H. Barron, with him Lynn S. Moore, for appellee.

Bell, C. J., Jones, Cohen, Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts and Pomeroy, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Roberts. Mr. Justice Cohen took no part in the decision of this case. Dissenting Opinion by Mr. Chief Justice Bell.

Author: Roberts

[ 441 Pa. Page 388]

This Court is urged by this appeal to hold unconstitutional the Pennsylvania Rent Withholding Act, Act of January 24, 1966, P. L. (1965) 1534, § 1, as amended, 35 P.S. § 1700-1 (Supp. 1970). We are unpersuaded and hold that Act to be a valid exercise of the Commonwealth's police power.

[ 441 Pa. Page 389]

According to the terms of the Rent Withholding Act,*fn1 if a city certifies a dwelling as "unfit for human habitation", the tenant's rental obligation is suspended until the dwelling is re-certified as "fit" or until the tenancy is terminated for a reason other than the nonpayment of rent. During the period of rent suspension, rents due are to be deposited in an escrow account. If the dwelling is re-certified as fit within six months after the original certification of unfitness, all funds in the escrow account are payable to the landlord. If, however, the dwelling remains unfit at the expiration of the six month period, all escrow funds are returnable

[ 441 Pa. Page 390]

    to the tenant, except that such funds may be used to effect repairs needed to render the dwelling fit or to pay for utility services for which the landlord is obligated but unwilling or unable to pay. The Act further provides that no tenant shall be evicted for any reason during the rent suspension period.

Appellants, Peter, Eugene and Helen DePaul, are the owners of a nine-unit apartment building on East High Street in Philadelphia. On or about April 4, 1968, the City of Philadelphia certified that property "unfit for human habitation". Pursuant to the Rent Withholding Act and beginning on April 27, 1968, rents were withheld and paid to appellee, Samuel Kauffman, as escrow agent.

On October 17, 1968, appellants filed a complaint in equity seeking a declaration that the Rent Withholding Act is unconstitutional and an injunction restraining appellee from returning any of the escrow funds to the depositing tenants.*fn2 In addition to the foregoing facts, appellants alleged that on some unspecified date they had applied for a loan to enable them to improve their East High Street property so as to make it "fit for human habitation". They asserted, however, that their loan application could not be processed before the expiration of the statutory six month period on October 27, 1968.

After the issuance of a preliminary injunction, appellee filed preliminary objections in the nature of a demurrer, alleging that he had complied fully with the provisions of the Rent Withholding Act. The court of common pleas sustained the preliminary objections and dissolved the preliminary injunction. The present appeal followed.

[ 441 Pa. Page 391]

Appellants assert that the Rent Withholding Act is an unconstitutional delegation of legislative authority; that it suffers from a degree of vagueness offensive to the Fourteenth Amendment; that it allows the taking of their property without due process of law; and that it impairs the obligations of their contracts in violation of Article I, Section 17 of the Pennsylvania Constitution and Article ...


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