Housing Authority Can Evict Resident for Serious Nuisance Conduct
The manager’s thorough documentation and testimony were key.
Ongoing objectionable conduct or conditions may be grounds for eviction. HUD leases contain provisions that identify actions that adversely affect the health or safety of any person or the right of any tenant to the quiet enjoyment of the leased premises and related project facilities as noncompliance with the lease. In addition, federal regulations require that HUD housing “must be decent, safe, sanitary and in good repair” [24 CFR §5.703]. And owners must maintain housing in a manner that meets certain physical condition standards [24 CFR §5.701(c)]. Meeting these standards helps keep your premises and residents safe.
A recent case of a resident with a psychiatric disability shows how a housing authority acted to address a resident’s serious nuisance behavior that created a huge fire hazard and potential liability for management. Remember that HUD requires that all areas and components of housing be free of health and safety hazards. These include garbage and debris, infestation, fire hazards, mold, and other observable deficiencies.
Immediate and Serious Dangers
A local housing authority sought to evict a resident for serious nuisance conduct. The resident defended himself by saying he was entitled to an accommodation because of his psychiatric disability.
In 2013, the resident entered into a written lease for an apartment in a public housing complex for persons with disabilities and the elderly. In 2019, the resident was hospitalized on several occasions. In March 2019, the police escorted the resident from his apartment to an ambulance that took him to a behavioral health unit within the local hospital. An officer involved in that incident subsequently informed the property manager, that, given what the officer had observed while escorting the resident from the apartment, the apartment should be condemned.
Manager documents conditions. Later that day, the manager and a maintenance worker entered the apartment and took photographs of the hallway adjacent to the apartment door and the interior of his apartment. The next day, the housing authority served the resident with a notice to quit possession. The notice to quit indicated, among other things, that the resident willfully caused substantial destruction to his dwelling unit by ripping up tiles from the floor, rendering appliances inoperable, clogging the sink and toilet, and filling the apartment with trash and other debris that had left the unit uninhabitable, constituting a serious nuisance in violation of state law.
The notice to quit also alleged that the defendant’s conduct presented an immediate and serious danger to the safety of other tenants, because the resident had harassed another resident and dragged bags of trash down the stairs and through common areas, leaving behind a trail of food and other refuse.
Manager testifies about conditions. The property manager testified about what she observed when she inspected the apartment. She stated that the resident had thrown garbage in the hallway outside of his apartment. The trash was strewn about, the floor was wet, and bags of garbage impeded an exit, which presented a safety concern. The interior of the apartment was filthy and had a very bad odor; something had been smeared all over the walls; dishes containing spoiled food were scattered throughout the apartment; there were piles of soggy bags of trash; rotting food and grease covered the oven, stove, and kitchen walls, which presented a fire hazard; the kitchen sink was clogged and full of greasy, dirty water and dishes; the toilet was unusable because multiple household items had been stuffed into the bowl; and there was standing water on the bathroom floor.
The manager further testified that she had to step over bags of garbage and there was no clear pathway through the apartment. The defendant’s personal belongings were in disarray and were stacked four feet high in some places, “similar to . . . a hoarding situation.” Additionally, the smoke alarms were inoperable because the batteries had been removed, floor tiles had been ripped up from the entryway to the kitchen, and the refrigerator wasn’t working because the circuit breaker had been tripped. The manager also testified that the resident never submitted maintenance requests to report any of these issues.
Court Sides with Housing Authority
The court found in favor of the housing authority, citing that the condition of the apartment presented “an immediate and serious danger to the safety of other tenants of the building.” The resident appealed, and the Connecticut appeals court affirmed the lower court’s judgment.
The court found that the resident’s actions were a serious nuisance within the meaning of state law. The record supports the court’s conclusion that the condition of the apartment constituted a serious nuisance because it presented an immediate and serious danger to the safety of the other tenants. There were piles of garbage and dishes with rotten food scattered throughout the apartment, both the sink and toilet were inoperable because they were clogged, and the oven and stove were covered in grease, which presented a fire hazard. There was ample evidence to support the court’s conclusion that the condition of the apartment was “squalid, unsanitary, and a public health threat to the other tenants,” which presented an immediate and serious danger to the safety of the other tenants [Hous. Auth. of New London v. Stevens, January 2022].
In this case, the manager documented the condition of the resident’s apartment with photographs. These were later entered as evidence during the trial and helped validate the manager’s testimony of the dangerous conditions in the apartment.
In some situations, another way to document complaints and conditions is to keep a record of housekeeping notices sent to the resident. These notices should highlight the health, safety, and sanitary provisions in the lease. Also, it’s a good idea when issuing housekeeping-related lease violations, to have standards in your policy or house rules, and not just the lease. Also, have tenants who lodge complaints memorialize those complaints with letters. Building staff should submit written memos to management and photograph the conditions, if possible. Often, security cameras can be used to document the dates and times of the occurrences. The information collected is necessary both for trial and for the preparation of a fact-specific notice of termination.