Member Can't Sue HUD for Dispute with Local PHA
Facts: During a dispute with an owner over utilities, a Section 8 resident asked her local PHA for a transfer of her voucher to another unit. The PHA denied her request because she wasn’t in good standing with her current owner and after submitting additional hearing requests, she was again denied.
The dispute centered around the initial lease signed with the owner, which represented that water in the unit was heated by natural gas and would be paid by the owner. The resident was responsible for electric service to the unit. Contrary to the lease obligations, the resident failed to transfer electric utility service to her name and didn’t pay for electric service to the unit. She claimed that the owner breached the lease because the water heater in the unit was electrical, not gas, so she asked to be transferred to another unit.
The PHA retroactively increased her utility allowance and made an additional housing assistance payment to the owner to reconcile the difference between the electric hot water and gas hot water allowance. The PHA also advised her that under the lease she was responsible for the remainder of the electric utilities.
Unsatisfied with the response, the resident repeatedly requested a hearing, which the PHA denied because it hadn’t taken adverse action against her. The PHA also clarified that it denied her transfer request because the owner indicated that the resident owed a balance on her rental account for utilities and attorneys’ fees. If she resolved the landlord-tenant dispute, the PHA stated it would process her paperwork to be ported out to different housing.
She continued not to pay rent and the PHA warned her of a termination of benefits. She then contacted HUD to request a compliance review of the PHA. HUD replied that based on a review of the documents provided, it recommended that she resolve the utility dispute by working with the owner and the PHA. HUD explained that the PHA was acting properly in seeking to enforce her obligations and warned that her failure to pay for electric service could result in termination of benefits. HUD also clarified that pursuant to applicable regulations, the PHA wasn’t required to give her a hearing on the denial of her “port out” requests.
The resident then sued HUD, asking the court to require HUD to intervene in her dispute with the PHA and the owner; specifically, she asked the court to direct HUD to require that the PHA hold an informal hearing and provide a voucher for her to transfer. HUD asked the court to dismiss the case.
Ruling: A District of Columbia district court granted HUD’s request.
Reasoning: The court stated that the resident couldn’t sue HUD on these grounds. The cause of the injury that the resident seemed to claim stems from a disagreement with the PHA and the owner over utilities. HUD isn’t a party to the housing assistance contracts of Section 8 participants.
The lease and housing assistance contract at issue here are no exception: The parties subject to these contracts are the resident, the owner, and the PHA. HUD merely funds the program but doesn’t make individualized determinations such as the ones about which the resident had complained. The PHA is ultimately responsible for administering the program and a participant’s status in it.
- Robbins v. HUD, October 2014