THE SUPREME COURT agreed this week to consider a California rent control dispute in which landlords are challenging a 1980 Berkeley ordinance imposing limits on rent increases.
The justices will hear arguments that the ordinance violates federal antitrust law, specifically the Sherman Act's restrictions on price fixing.
The Berkeley Rent Stabilization and Eviction for Good Cause ordinance affected 23,000 rental units in the city.
The owners and operators of the rental units who filed the lawsuit contesting the ordinance told the high court the rights of landlords in more than 50 other California cities are at stake.
They claim the measure "establishes an erroneous constitutional standard" that authorizes the city to control rents so that landlords receive only a limited return on their investment, without regard to rising property values.
The 1980 ordinance allows rent increases -- with approval of the Rent Stabilization Board -- only under limited circumstances, to provide a return on investment and compensate the landlord for operating-cost increases.
The measure was upheld in Superior Court, but declared unconstitutional by the California Court of Appeal. The state Supreme Court reversed the appeals court, ruling 6-1, and upheld the validity of the ordinance.
In written arguments prepared for the justices, the landlord group claimed that "for over 40 years the Supreme Court has consistently and without deviation adhered to the principle that price-fixing agreements are unlawful . . . under the Sherman Act."
Lawyers for Berkeley asked the court to dismiss the appeal or to uphold the state Supreme Court.
They argued that the ordinance was enacted to protect tenants from "unwarranted rent increases and arbitrary evictions brought on by the city's housing crisis," and to prevent minorities from being forced out.
In upholding the Berkeley rent control law, the state court said communities have a "legitimate interest in enacting economic and social regulations" that conflict with federal antitrust law.
Cities are not like private businesses seeking to skirt antitrust laws for financial gain, the state court said. Berkeley's rent control ordinance "is designed to deal with its housing crisis, preserve the public peace, health and safety" and help provide housing for the poor, minorities, students and the handicapped, the California court added.
CONNER HOMES CORP. was fined $20,000 this week by a federal judge after pleading guilty to filing false statements with the Veterans Administration for accessories on mobile homes in the Newport News area.
U.S. District Judge James Turk said the practice of placing in VA loan applications amounts for furnishings and accessories not received seemed to have been confined to the Tidewater Virginia area.
The judge said officials of the North Carolina-based company knew nothing about the practice, but he said it was a serious violation. He imposed a $50,000 fine against Conner, suspending $30,000 and placing the company on unsupervised probation for three years.
Sam Wilson, a lawyer for the company, said the actions were "regrettable and we're sorry. The company wants to make them right."
The fine was the result of a plea agreement between the company and the U.S. attorney's office, following an investigation by the Inspector General's office of the Veterans Administration.
As part of the settlement, Conner agreed to stop processing VA loans for 120 days.
Tom King, an assistant U.S. attorney, said Conner employes added invoices for items such as air conditioning units, washers, dryers and fireplaces to loan applications and veterans did not receive them. Some items were substituted, he said.
FAIRFAX COUNTY HAS established an awards program to honor residential and commercial builders for design work. Since the program is new this year, all projects completed since 1975 will be eligible for the 1985 awards.
Honors will be given in 10 categories, according to the county planning staff.
The program is being administered by the Office of Comprehensive Planning and the County Architectural Review Board. The program is designed to encourage increased attention to design in new construction in both residential, commercial and industrial developments, county officials said.
"Any architect, urban designer, land-use planner, landscape architect, builder, developer or owner in the private or public sector" may enter the competition, officials said.
Deadline for entry is June 5. Nominations will be judged by a panel of architects, county Chamber of Commerce officials, members of the county history committee and landscape architects.
Awards will be given to all projects deemed worthy, officials said, primarily because this is the first year of the competition and many buildings created during the past decade deserve recognition.
Categories include single-family detached homes, residential townhouses, multifamily residential units, retail, commercial, office, general industrial, research and development office/industrial facilities, institutional buildings, recreational facilities, and historical preservations or renovations.