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Justices to Hear Rent-Law Case


The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments today on a challenge to Escondido's rent-control ordinance for mobile homes, a case that could redefine how and when damages can be awarded for the financial impact of government regulations.

The owner of two Escondido mobile-home parks filed suit against the city in 1989, charging that the ordinance imposes artificially low rents on the spaces in the parks, leading to lower profits.

Those lost profits, the suit alleges, are transferred to the renters of the spaces, who then can sell their mobile homes and the low rents of the spaces beneath them, for a higher-than-market rate.

The city defends the rent control ordinance, saying that virtually every regulation enacted by a city in some way economically affects somebody, and that it is within the purview of a municipality to impose laws--such as rent control--that are in the interests of the community.

The decision in the case, called Yee vs. Escondido, could have an immediate impact on the more than 75 cities in California and others across the country with mobile home rent-control laws.

The rent-control ordinance was passed by Escondido voters in 1988, and the courts at every level have ruled in favor of the city since the suit was filed.

Former Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork has agreed to argue the case on behalf of the mobile home park owners, while former Reagan Administration Solicitor General Rex Lee has signed on as the city's co-counsel.

The court will probably issue a ruling on the case in the spring.

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