PHA Bypassed Due Process Requirements in Seeking Eviction
Facts: In June 2011, a resident signed a one-year lease to rent a unit. The resident was initially approved for rental assistance that reduced her rent to $199 per month. She paid that amount until her next certification in January 2012, when her subsidy was increased to an amount that effectively lowered her monthly rent to $0 per month. Also as a result of this recertification, her lease was renewed for another one-year term, set to expire at the end of January 2013.
Not long after she moved into the unit, the resident began to receive written warnings from management. In August 2011, she was warned that two dogs were observed at her unit in violation of occupancy rules. In February 2012, a warning was sent citing her children’s disruptive behavior, also a violation of the rules. Other violation warnings cited a rabbit in her closet and an unregistered, non-operable vehicle on the property. In August 2012, the resident was informed that an associate of hers had been barred from visiting her at the site.
As a result of these violations, in November 2012, the management office informed the resident in writing that her lease wouldn’t be renewed for another one-year term. She was told to vacate the premises by the end of January 2013 and notified of her rights to defend an eviction in court.
Despite the demands that she vacate the premises, however, she didn’t leave, and in a March 3, 2013, form letter, she was informed that she had failed to pay rent for the months of February and March. Due to the termination of the lease, she was no longer qualified for rental assistance. The letter indicated that she was $1,316 in arrears and that a failure to pay the balance by March 15 would lead to a termination of her lease the following day. The resident was thus treated as a month-to-month tenant (at $658 per month).
The trial court found that the resident had failed to pay rent and issued an eviction order. The judge found that she owed $658 per month for the months of February, March, and April. Unable to pay rent, she was evicted from her unit in May 2013.
The resident asked a court to order the reinstatement of her tenancy and restoration of her subsidy. She claimed she suffered a violation of her due process rights arising from the subsidy termination, which was done allegedly without notice and without an opportunity to be heard.
Ruling: A South Carolina district court denied the owner’s motion to dismiss and the ordered the resident’s request to be consolidated with a new trial.
Reasoning: The court determined that the PHA complied with federal regulations and the lease as they were written. They gave adequate notice of the nonrenewal to the resident and ultimately obtained an eviction order.
However, the court couldn’t conclude that the PHA gave the resident an opportunity be heard on the lease violations. The court stated that the resident provided sufficient evidence to infer that the PHA never gave the resident the opportunity to contest the violations resulting in the nonrenewal of her lease, violating the spirit of due process. The evidence shows that the resident received notice of the violations and the nonrenewal of her lease. It shows that she was informed that she had the opportunity and “right to defend any court action relating to this lease non-renewal if such action is brought,” according to the termination letter. But the evidence also implies that the PHA never gave her that opportunity.
The PHA brought the eviction action solely because the resident didn’t pay rent for the months of February and March 2013. By doing so, the PHA bypassed, among other basic, constitutional requirements, a decision by an impartial judge on the evidence that may (or may not) have supported the PHA’s grounds for its nonrenewal of the lease.
- DiVetro v. Housing Authority of Myrtle Beach, July 2014