PHA Didn't Violate 14th Amendment with Random Housing Inspections
Facts: Under federal law, a participant in the Housing Choice Voucher program is required to permit the local PHA to inspect his or her unit. The PHA is periodically required to randomly select units from a list of units that had annual inspections performed within the previous 90 days.
A Section 8 resident’s unit was randomly selected under this procedure. And the PHA had no control over which units would be chosen. When the resident’s unit was selected for a random inspection, the inspector had no prior contact with the resident, didn’t know who he was, and had never met him.
The inspector found that electrical outlets in certain areas of the unit should have ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) protection. Thereafter, the PHA wrote to the resident’s landlord explaining the need for GFCI outlets in the kitchen, bathroom, and laundry areas within six feet of a water source. The letter didn’t require the resident to take any action. The landlord subsequently replaced the electrical outlets. And the resident continued to reside in the unit.
The resident then filed a lawsuit, claiming violations of the 14th Amendment. He sought a permanent injunction against future inspections as well as punitive damages in the amount of $500,000. The PHA asked the court for a judgment without a ruling in its favor.
Ruling: A Michigan district court granted the PHA’s request.
Reasoning: The court found that there was no basis for finding that the inspection was illegal. PHAs are legally required to conduct inspections of units that receive a Housing Choice Voucher. And the inspections are based upon the desire to ensure that landlords renting units to voucher recipients operate housing facilities that meet certain quality standards. There is no basis for finding that the inspection was illegal.
Also, the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause “is to secure every person within a State’s jurisdiction against intentional and arbitrary discrimination, whether occasioned by express terms of a statute or by its improper execution through duly constituted agents.” The requirements for a “class of one” equal protection claim are an allegation “that (plaintiff) has been intentionally treated differently from others similarly situated and there is no rational basis for the difference in treatment.”
Here, the resident’s unit was randomly selected for inspection without the inspector or PHA even knowing that it was the resident’s unit that had been selected. The resident presented no evidence to the contrary. As such, the resident cannot demonstrate that he was singled out or treated differently than any other similarly situated person. And therefore, he cannot make out a claim for violation of equal protection.
- Olivares v. Ann Arbor Housing Commission, December 2015