PHA Can Evict Resident for Children’s Criminal Activity
Facts: The local PHA initiated termination proceedings against a resident with five children, two of whom are minors. Police had recovered from the unit a significant amount of marijuana, a bottle of oxycodone pills, and a loaded and operable firearm. The resident wasn’t present at the time of the search, and there was no evidence that she had specific knowledge of the presence of the weapon or the drugs, which apparently were brought into the unit by her older children and their friends.
However, the resident acknowledged that one of her older sons is an habitual marijuana user, and that she had encouraged him to seek treatment. She also testified that she could control activities in the unit only when she was physically there.
Based on the fact that the resident was responsible for the activities within the unit whether she was present or not, the hearing officer upheld the charges of nondesirability and breach of the rules. The hearing officer also noted that she didn’t offer any assurance that narcotics and guns would never again be found in the unit, and concluded that the PHA “has an obligation to its residents to terminate tenancies which permit such possession.” The resident asked the court to reverse the decision on the basis that the penalty of termination “shocks the conscience” because: (1) she had lived in the unit for 23 years and served on the Tenants’ Association Board for the past five years; (2) she’s a single mother, and it would be unfair for her younger children to be evicted based on their older siblings’ conduct; (3) she wasn’t home at the time of the search; and (4) she was trying to encourage her older children to move out at the time of the incident.
The court agreed with her. The PHA appealed.
Ruling: A New York appeals court reversed the lower court’s order.
Reasoning: The appeals court ruled that the facts support the resident’s eviction and the eviction as a penalty didn’t rise to the level of shocking one’s conscience. In permitting drugs and a lethal weapon to be present in her unit, she committed a serious breach of the code of conduct that’s critical to any site, and which warrants the ultimate penalty. The court stated that the resident’s neighbors have a right to live in a safe and drug-free environment, and the resident significantly compromised their ability to do so, her alleged ignorance of the activities in her unit notwithstanding. The court also noted that there was no evidence to support the lower court’s implication that she and her younger children wouldn’t have the means to find other housing. Thus, the court couldn’t conclude that eviction will actually lead to that result, which is a necessary analysis for the “conscience” standard.