7 Golden Gate U. L. Rev. 677 (1976-1977)
Birkenfeld v. City of Berkeley: Blueprint for Rent Control in California

handle is hein.journals/ggulr7 and id is 685 raw text is: BIRKENFELD v. CITY OF
Birkenfeld v. City of Berkeley' is the first case in which the
California Supreme Court reviewed the validity of rent control
legislation.2 In the course of deciding that California's cities may
enact rent control measures as valid exercises of the police power,3
the court established that: (1) a housing emergency is not a prere-
quisite to the imposition of rent control;' (2) local rent control is
1. 17 Cal. 3d 129, 550 P.2d 1001, 130 Cal. Rptr. 465 (1976).
2. Id. at 158, 550 P.2d at 1022, 130 Cal. Rptr. at 486.
3. Id. at 158-59, 550 P.2d at 1022-23, 130 Cal. Rptr. at 486-87.
4. Id. at 158 & n.27, 550 P.2d at 1022 & n.27, 130 Cal. Rptr. at 486 & n.27. The
requirement that rent control is conditioned upon the existence of a public emergency is
a remnant of the long discredited era of economic substantive due process. During the
1920s, the High Court was confronted with a series of challenges to rent control legislation
following World War I. In Block v. Hirsh, 256 U.S. 135 (1921), the Court rejected an attack
on a District of Columbia law which permitted tenants to remain in possession of leased
premises beyond a lease's expiration date. Id. at 153-54, 158. The Court stated that the
law was justifiable in light of its temporary nature and the housing emergency that the
District of Columbia was experiencing. Id. at 154-56. A limit in time, to tide over a
passing trouble, well may justify a law that could not be upheld as a permanent change.
Id. at 157. The Court disposed of a similar attack on a New York rent control law in
Marcus Brown Holding Co. v. Feldman, 256 U.S. 170 (1921). In Edgar A. Levy Leasing
Co. v. Siegel, 258 U.S. 242 (1922), the Court sustained New York's Emergency Housing
Laws by focusing on the then-existing social emergency:
The warrant for this legislative resort to the police power was
the conviction . . . that there existed in the larger cities of the
state a social emergency, caused by an insufficient supply of
dwelling houses and apartments, so grave that it constituted a
serious menace to the health, morality, comfort, and even the
peace of a large part of the people of the state. That such an
emergency, if it really existed, would sustain a resort, otherwise
valid, to the police power for the purpose of dealing with it
cannot be doubted, for, unless relieved, the public welfare
would suffer in respects which constitute the primary, as well
as the most usual basis and justification, for exercises of that
Id. at 245. The mere recital of an emergency as a basis for the enactment of rent control
was shown to be insufficient when the Court remanded Chastleton Corp. v. Sinclair, 264
U.S. 543 (1924), for factual findings to substantiate the actual existence of emergency

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