ArtI.S8.C11.4.2.4 Rent and Price Controls

Article I, Section 8, Clause 11:

[The Congress shall have Power . . .] To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water; . . .

Even at a time when the Court was using substantive due process to void economic regulations, it generally sustained such regulations in wartime. Thus, shortly following the end of World War I, it sustained, by a narrow margin, a rent control law for the District of Columbia, which not only limited permissible rent increases but also permitted existing tenants to continue in occupancy provided they paid rent and observed other stipulated conditions. 1 Justice Holmes for the majority conceded in effect that in the absence of a war emergency the legislation might transcend constitutional limitations, 2 but noted that a public exigency will justify the legislature in restricting property rights in land to a certain extent without compensation.3

During World War II and thereafter, economic controls were uniformly sustained. 4 An apartment house owner who complained that he was not allowed a fair return on the property was dismissed with the observation that a nation which can demand the lives of its men and women in the waging of . . . war is under no constitutional necessity of providing a system of price control . . . which will assure each landlord a `fair return' on his property.5 The Court also held that rental ceilings could be established without a prior hearing when the exigencies of national security precluded the delay which would ensue. 6

But, in another World War I case, the Court struck down a statute that penalized the making of any unjust or unreasonable rate or charge in handling . . . any necessaries7 as repugnant to the Fifth and Sixth Amendments in that it was so vague and indefinite that it denied due process and failed to give adequate notice of what acts would violate it. 8


  1.  Jump to essay-1Block v. Hirsh, 256 U.S. 135 (1921).
  2.  Jump to essay-2But quaere in the light of Nebbia v. New York, 291 U.S. 502 (1934), Olsen v. Nebraska ex rel. Western Reference and Bond Ass'n, 313 U.S. 236 (1941), and their progeny.
  3.  Jump to essay-3Block v. Hirsh, 256 U.S. 135, 156 (1921).
  4.  Jump to essay-4Yakus v. United States, 321 U.S. 414 (1944); Bowles v. Willingham, 321 U.S. 503 (1944); Lockerty v. Phillips, 319 U.S. 182 (1943); Fleming v. Mohawk Wrecking & Lumber Co., 331 U.S. 111 (1947); Lichter v. United States, 334 U.S. 742 (1948).
  5.  Jump to essay-5Bowles v. Willingham, 321 U.S. 503, 519 (1944).
  6.  Jump to essay-6321 U.S. at 521. The Court stressed, however, that Congress had provided for judicial review after the regulations and orders were made effective.
  7.  Jump to essay-7Act of October 22, 1919, 2, 41 Stat. 297.
  8.  Jump to essay-8United States v. L. Cohen Grocery Co., 255 U.S. 81 (1921).