Court Rules Maryland Law Applies in Section 8 Evictions
Facts: A severely disabled resident lives in Section 8 housing for low-income elderly and disabled tenants. He suffers from incomplete paralysis in his extremities, with muscle spasms and sensations leaving him in daily pain. At the time of lease renewal, he signed a drug-free housing policy addendum.
In 2014, the site experienced a bedbug infestation, and the owner hired an extermination company to treat units in the complex. Two exterminators entered the resident’s unit to perform extermination treatment and saw a marijuana plant growing in a pot in his bathtub. They reported this to the site’s management office. A security guard employed by the site went to the unit and saw the same marijuana plant.
In June 2014, the owner gave the resident a notice of termination of his lease. When he didn’t vacate the unit within 30 days of that notice, the owner initiated an eviction action, claiming that the resident had breached the terms of the drug-free housing agreement addendum to his lease.
The resident contended that even if he breached the lease, he couldn’t be evicted unless the court determined that the breach was “substantial” and “warrants eviction” according to state law. He claimed that the marijuana was for his personal medicinal use, but the circuit court pointed out that federal law makes possession of any quantity of marijuana a crime. The trial court granted a judgment without a trial in favor of the owner. The resident appealed.
Ruling: A Maryland appeals court reversed the lower court’s decision and sent the case back for a trial.
Reasoning: The appeals court ruled that the federal law permitting owners to evict drug-possessing tenants in subsidized housing doesn’t trump Maryland’s statute permitting eviction only upon a showing that the terms of the lease were substantially breached. The court held that the federal statutes and the applicable regulations and HUD guidelines don’t preempt or displace state law in this area. It may be that this drug offense wouldn’t amount to a substantial breach of the lease warranting eviction under Maryland law. The court found that “a state court’s consideration of equitable and related factors in an eviction action does not stand as an obstacle to the federal goal of providing low-income housing that is decent, safe, and free from illegal drugs.”
In the court’s view, Congress could not have intended automatic evictions from federally subsidized housing without permitting tenants recourse under state law. “To require a state court, as a matter of law, to evict a disabled member of that class out of the home he had resided in for 24-25 years for having one marijuana plant in his bathtub, for his own medical use, with no evidence of distribution or attempted distribution, furthers no congressional intent that we have been able to identify,” the judge wrote.
- Chateau Foghorn LP v. Hosford, August 2017