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ited, leases of agricultural land, reserving rent or services, forbidden for a longer period than twelve years, and fines, quarter-sales and like “restraints upon alienation” declared thenceforth void. These provisions were re-enacted in the Constitution of 1894, and are still a part of the fundamental law of New York State. In 1852 the Court of Appeals held that all restraints on alienation of estates conveyed in fee were void, and that therefore the fines, quarter-sales and similar reservations in fee leases antedating the Constitution of 1846 were void. This decision greatly alleviated the tension and practically ended the so-called "Anti-Rent Wars" although sporadic outbursts continued down to 1866.?

Const. of 1846, Art. I, Sections 12, 13, 14, 15.
• De Peyster v. Michael, 6 N. Y. 467.
' Roberts, “ History of N. Y.,” Vol. II, p. 630.


Recent History in New York State Relative to Housing

Shortage-Facts Concerning the “Emergency”

The situation which led to the enactment of the so-called “Housing Laws” by the New York State Legislature in April, 1920, and of the amendments and additions thereto passed in September, 1920, and the spring session of 1921, is so recent and has been so fully and vividly treated in newspaper and magazine articles, in pamphlets and committee reports, and even in the usually restrained language of court decisions, that it is unnecessary to review here more than the salient facts. The crisis followed swiftly in the wake of the Great War. An examination of the official reports of investigating committees leads one to the conclusion that events had been leading to such a crisis for a score of years or more,' and that since 1916 at least the signs pointed unmistakably thereto; but apparently the indications so clear in retrospect almost wholly escaped the attention of even those trained and chosen to observe until the "storm" was upon them, for in the "Preliminary

“ Report” of the Committee appointed by the Legislature in April, 1919, "to investigate housing and ice conditions throughout the cities of the State, especially the City of New York,” we read the following:

Report of Housing Committee of the New York State Reconstruction Commission, of March 26, 1920, pages 21, 36, 37. At page 37: “There is an actual shortage of sufficient walls and roofs at present. A shortage of houses fit for Americans has always existed in this state.

“The testimony taken prior to the special session of the Legislature to June, 1919, showed that the situation was acute in the City of New York, but according to the statements taken at the State conference of mayors and city officials held in Schenectady, and testimony taken by the committee in Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo in June, it appeared that except in one or two instances local authorities expressed the opinion that they had the housing situation well in hand and desired no new legislation.2

By the date of this report, January 7, 1920, the Committee and the community were beginning to awaken to conditions but apparently there was still confidence that mildly palliative measures would suffice, for only minor legislative recommendations were made.

By March, 1920, however, the awakening was quite complete. The “flood” of “petitions from the representatives of the tenants” was upon the Legislature, and the press, particularly in New York City, was featuring the widespread anxiety and suffering of tenants, especially in the poorer sections. On March 26th, the Housing Committee of the State Reconstruction Commission appointed by the Governor in January of the previous year, issued a comprehensive report of sixty-five pages, in which "the real present need of apartments in the City of New York” is put at approximately 40,000. The report states: 4

2 Legislative Document No. 14 (1920), page 3.

3 The so-called “Ottinger Law,” Laws of 1918, Ch. 303, amending $ 232 of the Real Property Law, making New York City tenancies where the duration of the tenancies was not specified in writing, tenancies from month to month, was repealed.

Section 2231, Code of Civil Procedure, was amended so as to require a landlord to prove a tenant's objectionableness if he proposed to evict on that ground.

* Page 3.

“To supply that need will take years, during which the shortage creating the emergency will continue to exist. If all the money available in the New York market and throughout the State were put forward to-morrow, it would be impossible to build even in a year, utilizing every bit of man-power or material available, houses enough to take care of the shortage.

The same report states that the war industries brought to New York a great many additional workers, and the federal census figures would seem to bear out the statement, for the population of the city is thereby shown to have grown by 853,165 in the decade from 1910 to 1920, the total in the latter year being 5,620,048. At the same time, the following table is given to show the slump in dwelling construction:

New Law Tenements Erected in New York City

Year 1914 1915 1916 1917 1918 1919




No. of Apartments

20,577 23,617 21,359 14,241 2,706 1,481

This does not tell the entire story, for a large number of houses are annually demolished in New York City, and the rate of demolition was, if anything, accelerated during this period to provide additional business space. From March, 1917, to March, 1919, the report states that 6,831 apartments were destroyed, and in 1919 alone, the number was 1,859.

The Report of the Select Committee of the United States Senate, presented March 2, 1921, is to a similar effect. “A study of the building permits of the Borough of Manhattan,"


states the report, 5 " indicates that the total residential construction of the past three and a half years has amounted to

a less than half the residential construction of a normal year.”

Significant though these figures seem, it is only fair to state that some real estate men have contended that taking the decade from 1910 to 1920 as a whole, the actually existent housing space in New York City has, if anything, grown instead of decreased, and a careful study of the data to some extent sustains their contentions. The vacancies they refer to, however, are chiefly in the oldest of the tenement houses, habitations concededly "at the bottom rung of the 'social scale' requirements.” An important factor in the situation appears to have been that the poorest classes found themselves in 1919 and early in 1920 gradually driven by the pressure of higher rental demands (demands often, as will hereafter appear, probably justified) to these lowest types of houses, and the classes above them similarly to lower grade houses,—with a corresponding lowering in the standards of living of these large masses of people.? To meet the increased demands of the landlords, investigation revealed that many expedients, such as taking in boarders and sharing houses with relatives, were quite generally adopted, with deplorable consequences.

The report of the Housing Committee of the Reconstruction Commission,

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6 Report No. 829, p. 9

.R.O. Chittick, “The Housing Problem in New York, in “The Metropolis," January, 1921, p. 15; S. A. Herzog, in the “New York Times," November 7, 1920; "N. Y. Herald," October 24, 1920.

Report of Housing Committee of State Reconstruction Commission page 36: “A portion of the population unaccustomed to the hardships of the old houses is being forced down by the present costs.” At page 10: “Raising of rents resulting from the shortage of houses has affected not only the poor, but a large part of the population even among the moderately well-to-do have been forced into very congested quarters."

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