PHA Can Deny Housing to Convicted Robber
Facts: In his application for housing at a local PHA, an applicant admitted that he was recently released from prison after serving a 15-year sentence for robbery. In addition to the application, he also signed HUD's Authorization for the Release of Information/Privacy Act Notice and the PHA's Authorization for Release of Information.
With these authorizations, the PHA conducted a criminal background check on the applicant, which confirmed his conviction for armed robbery, escape from jail, and theft by deception. The background check also confirmed his release from prison.
The executive director of the PHA sent a letter to the applicant conveying that he wasn't eligible for housing. The reason stated was “unsatisfactory police report.” The letter further advised the applicant that if he wanted to discuss this matter with the director, he should call the number listed on the letterhead within 14 days. The applicant didn't do so. A few months later, the applicant sued the PHA, claiming that it had violated his civil rights. The PHA asked the court for a judgment in its favor without a trial.
Ruling: A Kentucky district court granted a judgment without a trial in the PHA's favor.
Reasoning: Pursuant to federal law, the PHA had set forth its policies in a HUD-approved document called Admissions and Continued Occupancy Policy (ACOP). The ACOP explicitly states that the PHA is neither required nor obligated to assist families or individuals “who are convicted of drug-related criminal activity or violent criminal activity or have a history of criminal activity involving crimes of physical violence to persons or property and other criminal activity which may adversely affect the health, safety, or welfare of other tenants.”
The policy further states that, as a general rule, applicants may be denied admission to public housing for five years for an arrest or conviction record that indicates the applicant may be a threat and/or a negative influence on other residents. The five years begins on the date of the last reported act, completion of sentence, and/or probation period (whichever is later).
The court saw that it was undisputed that the application was denied based solely upon the applicant's criminal history for armed robbery and his recent release from prison. The applicant admitted that he spent 15 years in prison for armed robbery, was released from prison in July 2009, and applied for and was denied housing in September 2009. Also, the applicant didn't identify or allege any violations of civil rights other than his alleged status as a former incarcerated individual. But there is no law that mandates protection for those with a criminal history in the public housing context.
- Smith v. Young, March 2012