Hearing Officer Violated Resident's Due Process Rights
Facts: After a hearing, a PHA terminated a resident’s Section 8 voucher and denied her request for reasonable accommodation. The resident then sued the PHA for allegedly violating her due process rights.
At her deposition, the resident testified that she and her former landlord dated a few times in 2002, a few times in 2003, and for some months in 2004. She stated that the relationship was “on and off again until 2008” and ended in approximately the late summer of 2008. She testified that after the relationship ended, he would still let himself into her house.
In the fall of 2009, the former landlord lost his job and his home. He asked if he could stay with her for a few days until he could decide where to go. She told him that a stay of a few days would be fine. She testified that it was her understanding that he could stay in the unit without causing her to violate the PHA’s rules, because he wouldn’t exceed the two-week limit for guest stays.
When asked if she was afraid of the former landlord in the fall of 2009, she testified that he made comments “that he could just move [her] stuff out and take over the apartment,” and that at the time she believed that he could do so and was “afraid that he was going to change the locks and put all [her] belongings out on the street . . . .” She acknowledged that during that time period, she was not “desperate, desperately afraid of him” and was not afraid that he would become violent toward her. He later became violent with her, and in May 2010, a restraining order was issued against him.
In July 2010, her case worker from the PHA called her to tell her that the current landlord had reported that she wasn’t paying rent and to ask her why she wasn’t paying. She told her case worker that the former landlord had moved in and taken over a room and that she couldn’t get him out, and further, that she wanted to move.
Then, in a letter dated Sept. 30, 2010, the director of the PHA’s Division of Leased Housing informed the resident that “there are serious concerns relative to your ex-boyfriend/Landlord… who has been residing at [your address] as confirmed by [a] Police report dated May 12, 2010.” The resident wrote to request a hearing, stating that “the police report alone does not accurately describe the situation” and that she “would like the opportunity to address the inconsistencies in the police report.”
At the hearing, the resident’s attorney stated that the resident suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and later notified the hearing officer that they would be submitting a reasonable accommodation request. The hearing officer then chose to conduct a post-hearing investigation and decided to deny the reasonable accommodation request.
Ruling: A Massachusetts district court vacated the termination decision and ordered the PHA to conduct a new hearing before a different hearing officer.
Reasoning: In her written decision, the hearing officer explicitly relied on research that she conducted after the hearing with respect to the resident’s car registration. This evidence wasn’t presented at the hearing, and the resident was never given a chance to respond to it. The evidence resulting from the officer’s post-hearing investigation contributed to her determination that the resident had engaged in a “clear pattern of deception which has been evident throughout this case” and to her termination of the resident’s benefits. The court concluded that this was a core due process violation.
- Anderson v. Lowell Housing Authority, August 2012