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LLC v. City of Hartford

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

January 2, 2017

62-64 Kenyon St. Hartford, LLC and Paul Rosow Plaintiffs
v.
City of Hartford Defendant.

          RULING ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS

          VICTOR A. BOLDEN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff, 62-64 Kenyon Street Hartford, LLC (“Rooming House”), is a Connecticut limited liability company that has operated a rooming house at 62-64 Kenyon Street in Hartford, Connecticut since 1960. Compl., ECF No. 1, ¶1, ¶6. Co-Plaintiff Paul Rosow (“Mr. Rosow”) manages the Rooming House and owns the property. Id. at ¶3, ¶9. Defendant, City of Hartford (“Hartford” or “City”), is a municipality organized under the laws of the State of Connecticut and is empowered to grant licenses to rooming house operators. Id. at ¶5. The Plaintiffs challenge an ordinance passed by the City in July 2015, which requires proof of owner occupancy as a prerequisite for rooming house licenses.

         The City argues that the case is moot because a revised zoning map, which the City passed in January 2016, rendered the allegedly unconstitutional owner occupancy requirement unenforceable. Mr. Rosow argues that the case is not moot because the City may attempt to enforce the allegedly illegal ordinance, and also because their claims for damages-nominal damages, compensatory damages, punitive damages and legal fees-prevents dismissal for mootness. For the reasons that follow, the Defendant's motion is DENIED.

         I. Factual Allegations

         Hartford's Municipal Code defines a rooming house as “any residential structure” for which the principal purpose “is to provide lodging, but not meals, for compensation, by pre-arrangement for definite periods, for three or more persons.” Compl., ¶7. The City of Hartford requires licenses for businesses that operate rooming houses. Id. at ¶5.

         Mr. Rosow owns and manages the Rooming House. Compl., ¶3, ¶9. He has lived in Scottsdale, AZ since 2014. Compl., ¶3. He lived in Hartford, but not at the Rooming House, from 1986 to 2014. Id. at ¶4. Since 1986, he has appointed a designated agent to reside in the rooming house. Id. at ¶9. Because the designated agent lived at the Rooming House, Mr. Rosow was able to receive a license for the Rooming House from the City, although he himself did not live there. Id. Plaintiffs have held a valid license for the property's use as a rooming house since 1987. R. 26(f) Report (Stmt. Undisputed Facts), ¶4. Plaintiffs' most recent rooming house license was valid through June 30, 2016. Compl., ¶10.

         At some point before July 13, 2015, Mr. Rosow secured a buyer for the Rooming House. Compl., ¶65. The buyer planned to operate the property as a rooming house in the same manner as Mr. Rosow had, and offered to pay Mr. Rosow in excess of $375, 000. Id. On July 13, 2015, Hartford enacted an ordinance amending Ch. 18, Art. VII of the City's Municipal Code relating to rooming houses (“the Ordinance”). Id. at ¶53. Sec. 18-164 of the Ordinance provides:

The licensee who obtains a license under this Article shall reside in the rooming house. In the R-6, R-7, and R-8 zoning districts, no license or license renewal shall be issued to a licensee who is not the owner or majority owner of the property. A licensee who is not the owner of the real shall have a valid power of attorney from the owner, not more than one (1) year old, which gives the licensee authority to do all things necessary to manage and operate the rooming house, including, without limitation, to collect, deposit and spend the rents from roomers, to pay bills, to make repairs, to correct violations, and to allow inspections of the premises.

Id. at ¶55; See also Compl. Ex. 26. Sec. 18-164 would go into effect on June 30, 2016. Id. at ¶59. Sec. 18-164 only applied to certain residential districts in the City, which were designated on the City's zoning Map as R-6, R-7 and R-8. Id. Rooming houses in other parts of the City were not affected by the Ordinance and did not need to be owner-occupied to get a license. See R 26(f) zoning districts and was thus the only rooming house affect Sec 18-164. Id.

In October 2015, Mr. Rosow corresponded by e-mail with Hartford's Corporation Counsel, Henri Alexandre, about the Ordinance. Id. at ¶58. Mr. Alexandre told Mr. Rosow that because of the Ordinance, Mr. Rosow could not get a rooming house license unless he moved onto the property, and could not meet the residency requirement using a resident agent with power of attorney on behalf of Mr. Rosow. Ex. 1 to Rosow Aff., Oct. 6 e-mail from Henri Alexandre, ECF No. 25-2.

         Mr. Rosow alleges that City officials passed the Ordinance in response to complaints from the West End Civic Association (“WECA”), an unincorporated group of residents of the neighborhood near the Rooming House. Compl., ¶¶11-16. At some point in late 2015, Mr. Rosow made a Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) request of the City. Rosow Aff., ¶¶13-14. The response revealed e-mail correspondence between WECA and City employees regarding Rosow's rooming house. Id. at ¶15. See also Compl., ¶11.

         Citing the results of his FOIA request, Mr. Rosow alleges that WECA members began to complain about the rooming house to City officials and employees as early as 2011, mounting a several-year campaign to eliminate the Rooming House as a blight on their single-family neighborhood. Compl., ¶11. Mr. Rosow also alleges that members of WECA urged the City's Director of Licenses & Inspections to conduct “surprise inspections” of his property, at one point requiring Mr. Rosow's agent to provide photo identification to the inspector. Id. at ¶¶22-23. Eventually, Mr. Rosow alleges, WECA members encouraged City Council members to pass an ordinance specifically targeting rooming houses with non-resident owners, based on their knowledge that Mr. Rosow lived in Arizona. Compl., ¶35. Mr. Rosow alleges that WECA urged the City to deny the Rooming House's license “in furtherance of its goal to eliminate low-income minorities in need of short term housing” from the neighborhood. Id. at 11.

         On May 8, 2015, the City Council's Agenda contained a bill regarding rooming houses sponsored by Hartford's former Mayor. Compl., ¶33. In the days that followed, members of WECA allegedly campaigned against the bill because it would not specifically require Mr. Rosow to reside at the Rooming House as a condition of the license. Id. at 34. WECA allegedly corresponded with the City Council President urging the passage of a revised bill that would specifically target rooming houses with non-resident owners. Id. at 36. Members of WECA also met with the City's Corporation Counsel and the Office of Licenses & Inspections regarding the “perceived deficiencies” of the rooming house bill. Id. at ¶¶37-42. The Corporation Counsel expressed some concern about the legality of the bill. Id.

         On May 13, 2015, the Plaintiffs allege that a certain WECA member wrote an e-mail to the former Mayor of Hartford stating that he was displeased that Corporation Counsel “made matters worse” by expressing concern about the legal implications of WECA's proposed owner occupancy requirement. Id. at ΒΆ41. At that point, the Corporation Counsel ...


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