PHA Can't Terminate Resident's Tenancy
Facts: A resident visited the management office seeking a rent adjustment, which she believed was warranted by the recent termination of disability assistance that had been granted her after a difficult pregnancy. She gave a resident services associate some documentation that she believed established the loss of benefits. The associated pointed out to her that the documentation was inconclusive on the issue of whether the disability assistance had in fact been terminated. The resident was told to come back with more paperwork.
According to the associate’s testimony at an administrative hearing, the resident began to yell and curse at her. The associate decided to leave for the reception area, where her assistant manager was. To do so, she was required to move the resident’s baby stroller out of the way, since it was blocking the door. The resident followed her and accused her of pushing her stroller in disregard of her child’s safety. According to the associate, she was concerned enough about the resident’s behavior to call the police. But before she could dial 911, the resident grabbed the telephone and threw it towards her. The associate eventually called the police and filed a police report, but the resident wasn’t arrested.
By notice, the PHA informed the resident that it was considering terminating her lease based on the incident with the associate. The next day the resident returned to the management office with further information regarding her income, but the manager claimed that when he brought up the possibility of termination, the resident became outraged and began cursing him.
Based on these two incidents, the PHA initiated charges to terminate the resident’s tenancy based on nondesirability and for breaching the PHA’s rules and regulations. A hearing comprised of five separate sessions took place. The resident’s attorney argued that termination of her tenancy wasn’t an appropriate penalty, since she is a single mother with a disabled child, a victim of domestic violence, and a lifelong public housing tenant. Her attorney further argued that while her conduct wasn’t “fully excusable,” it was “understandable” given the resident’s contention that the associate allegedly “jarred her baby carriage or pushed it on the way out of the room.”
The hearing officer upheld the charges and imposed termination as a penalty, stating that while she had considered the mitigating circumstances, they were “insufficient to overcome the risk the tenant poses to the safety of the housing authority’s employees.” The resident asked the court to reverse the PHA’s decision.
Ruling: A New York appellate division court reversed the termination and sent the case back for a lesser penalty.
Reasoning: The evidence supporting the charges for termination was substantial, considering that the tenant’s lease expressly prohibited her from engaging in violent activity on and off the site, and required her to do everything necessary to permit the PHA to comply with applicable regulations.
However, the court decided that termination of her tenancy was a penalty that is “shocking to the conscience” and couldn’t be upheld, because the resident’s undesirable behavior was isolated. None of the PHA employees who were targeted by the tenant’s rage were physically injured. And the incidents occurred under stressful conditions for the tenant. She was the single mother of two young children, one of whom suffered from a developmental disability and needed medical attention since birth, and she had been a victim of domestic violence. These circumstances factored against termination.
- In re Amiyna Rock v. Rhea, February 2014