MIDDLETOWN — A federal court has taken the City of Middletown’s side in a suit challenging a law that would phase out multifamily housing in much of the city, the second federal court ruling this week upholding city laws regulating landlords.
The ruling Wednesday morning came fast — lawyers for both sides just made oral arguments Tuesday. The three judges agreed with a lower court decision rejecting the premise that the city should have provided individual notice to the property owners affected by the law. The city posted a newspaper notice before passing the law — the usual procedure with local law in New York.
“I think this decision puts to bed this whole theory that a municipal legislature has to provide individual notice to people before it passes zoning legislation,” said Middletown Assistant Corporation Counsel Alex Smith, who represented the city.
James Sweeney, who represented plaintiff Melyvn Edelhertz, said he thinks the landlords whose properties are going to be “put out of business” should’ve been told so they could make their case to the Council.
“He may not be successful, but he certainly has the right to stand there and make his argument,” he said. “I think this court made a pretty superficial decision in not recognizing that right. It’s pretty raw.”
Sweeney is also representing Jody Moraski, the head of the Middletown Landlords Association, in a suit challenging the law in state Supreme Court. The issues in that case, he said, are broader, such as whether the law is discriminatory. Both sides have already submitted arguments to Judge Robert Onofry and are awaiting a decision.
The law was passed in 2009 and would amortize, by 2014, multifamily homes in areas zoned for one- and two-family houses. There are 142 properties that are to be affected, although some will likely be allowed to stay if the owners get a waiver on the grounds that it would be “structurally unreasonable” to convert them. It affects the bulk of the city’s residential areas, but not commercially zoned areas like downtown. Mayor Joe DeStefano said he expects the law to change the face of some of the city’s streets.
“We are shifting policy from the old railroad town, the boarding houses along the railroad,” he said. “We’re getting into the 21st century here with zoning and use.”
On Monday, another federal court also upheld a 2011 city law that Edelhertz was challenging, that requires landlords who don’t live within 10 miles of the city to designate a property manager who does.