PHA Can Evict Resident for Threatening Behavior
Facts: In the summer of 2012, a resident began to engage in bizarre and, at times, alarming behavior with fellow residents at the site. One resident, who considered the troubled resident a friend and expressed her concern for his well-being, complained that he repeatedly showed up at her unit without invitation. She wasn’t bothered by his daytime visits but didn’t want him coming over after 9 p.m. She told him so, but he continued to make unannounced nighttime visits and would sometimes try to open her locked door without her permission. The troubled resident would also leave notes on another resident’s vehicle asking the whereabouts of that one particular resident and would leave gifts for her, though the gifts were always rejected.
In response to the increasing number of complaints from fellow residents regarding the resident’s behavior, the staff contacted him, discussed with him his fellow residents’ concerns, and asked him to refrain from making uninvited visits to his neighbors. The PHA also contacted area mental health resources to arrange for services and assistance for the resident.
In October 2012, the resident left a voicemail message for the PHA’s executive director, during which he said people were “going to be killed” and referring to “bullets through [certain housing authority] truck[s].” The director reported the phone call to the police and filed a report.
Shortly after the PHA initiated eviction proceedings in mid-November, the resident showed up at the office to try to persuade staff to reconsider and abandon the eviction case. He became very upset and announced that he owned the PHA, that he was going to fire the staff, and that there would be “bullets for everyone,” before he stormed out of the office.
In December 2012, a mental health caseworker was assigned to the resident to work with him on social skills, medication compliance, and economic problem-solving skills. She acknowledged that he has mood swings and his gap in social skills can lead him to become overly involved and fail to recognize when his attempts at closeness are unwelcome by others. She testified that she didn’t believe he posed a threat to the PHA staff. She denied any fear that he would issue a threat against anyone and denied ever having seen him display any violent outbursts.
The resident’s attorney sent a request to the PHA for a reasonable accommodation for the resident’s disability. Meanwhile, the PHA obtained a judgment of eviction that required the resident to vacate the premises and to pay $2,500 in attorney’s fees. The trial court found that: (1) the resident had breached his lease; (2) he had adversely affected the peaceful enjoyment of other residents; (3) he had committed a criminal offense of terroristic threat; (4) the PHA did not and could not obtain a reasonable accommodation of the resident’s disabilities; and (5) the PHA wasn’t required to make a reasonable accommodation under these circumstances at any rate. The resident appealed.
Ruling: A Texas appeals court agreed with the trial court’s judgment.
Reasoning: The court ruled that the evidence was legally sufficient to support the findings that the resident’s comments to the PHA by telephone and in person “were criminal in nature” and constituted terroristic threats under state law. Because the lease specifically prohibited that type of criminal activity, the PHA was within its rights to terminate the lease.
The trial court also applied the correct standard to the resident’s reasonable accommodation claim and, because the record failed to establish the requisite connection between the complained-of behavior and the decision to seek eviction based on the violation of lease provisions, the trial court properly concluded that termination of the lease and the subsequent eviction action weren’t based on any disability of the tenant.
The evidence suggests that the resident’s threats weren’t at all related to his disability and were, in fact, entirely inconsistent with the conduct his mental health caseworker described as typical for him. The record didn’t establish a causal link between the conduct forming the factual basis of the eviction and his disability, meaning that his tenancy wasn’t terminated as a result of his disability but, instead, was terminated as a consequence of his failure to abide by the rules imposed by the lease.
· Heinert v. Wichita Falls Housing Authority, July 2014