PHA Can't Evict Resident Based on Guest's Drug-Related Activities
Facts: A resident regularly relied upon her friend to babysit her three children while she was at work. One day she was scheduled to begin work at 11 p.m. The friend arrived at her unit several hours before 11 p.m. so the resident could get some sleep before going to work. After his arrival, the resident went to sleep in her bedroom while the friend and her children remained in the living room.
At approximately 8:30 p.m., the resident was awakened by her daughter, who informed her that police officers had arrested her friend. The officers had come to the unit to serve outstanding child support warrants upon the friend. In the course of serving these warrants, the officers searched the friend and found marijuana on him. The resident then authorized the officers to search her unit, and the officers found marijuana in the kitchen and several plastic baggies like those regularly used in drug transactions. According to the resident’s friend, the marijuana and other drug-related materials found in the unit belonged to him.
In light of his admission, the officers charged the friend with possession of marijuana with the intent to sell and deliver. The officers believed that the resident had no involvement in the friend’s marijuana-related activities, so she wasn’t charged with having committed any crime. And at trial, the resident testified that she didn’t know that her friend had brought marijuana into her unit or that he was involved in any drug-related activity.
The site manager received a police report and talked with law enforcement officers about the incident. After concluding that drug-related criminal activity by a person under the resident’s control had occurred in the unit, the manager notified the resident that her lease would be terminated. After the resident failed to vacate her unit on or before the date specified in the termination notice, the local PHA initiated an eviction proceeding. A trial court ruled in favor of the resident, and the PHA appealed.
Ruling: A North Carolina appeals court upheld the lower court’s ruling.
Reasoning: North Carolina state law requires that the eviction not be unconscionable or unreasonably excessive, and, when the resident was unaware of her guest’s activity and did not condone or tolerate it, the court concluded that her eviction would be unconscionable, as it would be shockingly unfair.
As the trial court found, the undisputed evidence shows that the resident hadn’t been accused of any criminal conduct, much less convicted of any criminal charges, while she occupied her unit, nor was she accused of violating any lease provision. In fact, she had never even been the subject of any complaints from the occupants of nearby units during the time that she lived at the site. Since the date of her friend’s arrest, she hadn’t had any contact with her friend or invited him to enter her unit. Finally, she was unemployed on the date that the PHA initiated this action, having lost her job due to the inability to obtain care for her children; has three small children who live with her; and has no ability to move in with relatives in the area in the event that she and her children are evicted.
After analyzing the totality of the surrounding facts and circumstances, the court concluded that evicting her based solely upon the actions of her friend, of which she had no knowledge and which she had done nothing to encourage or even tolerate when doing so would put the resident and her three small children “on the street,” would be “excessive” and “shockingly unfair or unjust.”
In addition, the court found that the federal statute didn’t supersede North Carolina’s unconscionability provision, because the provision didn’t conflict with or stand as an obstacle to achieving the federal statute’s purpose, as the statute gave PHAs discretion to evict, instead of requiring it, and HUD encouraged the consideration of individual circumstances.
- Eastern Carolina Regional Housing Authority v. Lofton, December 2014