PHA Didn't Discriminate Against Disabled Resident
Facts: A disabled resident had been living at a site managed by the local PHA for over 20 years. Her 25-year-old grandson resided with her for years. And the lease agreement stated that the resident agreed: “[n]ot to destroy, deface, damage, or remove any part of the premises or property. Not to allow my family or guests to do this.”
In May 2011, a senior maintenance technician performed a routine inspection of the premises and discovered a floodlight outside the resident’s unit had been disabled. In June 2011, the technician responded to a work order request from a resident whose unit was located across the walkway from the disabled resident’s unit. This resident informed the PHA that the floodlight on her unit, as well as the one on the disabled resident’s unit, had been torn from the wall, leaving gaping holes in the siding and exposed electrical wires hanging out of the holes.
PHA staff frequently found light bulbs removed from floodlight fixtures. It was believed this was done by individuals who wanted to engage in illegal activities under the cover of darkness. Although no one saw who damaged the floodlights, maintenance staff suspected the disabled resident’s grandson had vandalized the property.
The following day, the manager submitted a request to the PHA's legal counsel to issue a 30-day notice informing the resident that the lease was being terminated for lease violations. The resident promptly responded to the termination notice and stated that the floodlights outside her unit were never missing and that the PHA must have confused her unit with another one.
A grievance hearing was scheduled, and when informed of the hearing date, the resident’s daughter called to explain that the resident’s dialysis appointment conflicted with the date of the hearing. During this conversation, the resident’s daughter stated that the resident “was not living at her MDHA apartment and was living with her.” The lease requires residents to reside in their units and to give notice when they’ll be away from the premises for more than 14 days. In an effort to accommodate the resident’s dialysis appointment, a special date was set for her grievance hearing.
At the grievance hearing, the site manager testified that maintenance personnel discovered the floodlight had been removed from the resident’s unit in a manner that amounted to destruction of property. When questioned as to whether she’d been living in the unit, the resident said she’d been staying in rehab for therapy following the partial amputation of her feet. However, the resident then conceded she was mistakenly referring to her stay at a rehabilitation facility in 2009. Although she wasn’t living at the unit when these events occurred, and only her grandson was living there, the hearing officer’s ruling wasn’t based on her absence.
At the hearing, the resident didn’t request any accommodation because of her disability. Instead, she maintained that her light fixture wasn’t damaged. Based on the testimony, the officer decided that the PHA could terminate her lease.
Four months later, the resident sued, claiming that she was a disabled person and by terminating her lease, the PHA violated the state’s Human Rights Act. The trial court dismissed the resident’s complaint, and the resident appealed.
Ruling: A Tennessee appeals court agreed with the lower court’s ruling.
Reasoning: The court ruled that the resident had the burden to initiate a conversation with the PHA about her alleged need for a reasonable accommodation. The resident had the responsibility to inform when and in what manner she needed an accommodation for the PHA to determine whether it had a duty to provide the requested accommodation. The resident never requested an accommodation; therefore, any claim that the PHA refused to provide a reasonable accommodation failed as a matter of law.
Also, the resident couldn’t provide any evidence that the PHA terminated her lease because of her disability. Her lease was terminated based on legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons regarding the safety and welfare of its residents and the violations of the lease.
- Harris v. Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency, April 2014