PHA Didn't Violate Resident's Due Process Rights
Facts: A public housing resident sued the local PHA for initiating eviction proceedings against him without first providing him with a grievance hearing or due process. Under his lease, based on the resident’s reported income (which was zero), his initial monthly rent was calculated as negative $44. In other words, he was permitted to occupy the premises for free, and he received a monthly stipend toward utility services of $44.
In April 2015, the resident received a rent change notification advising him that his monthly rent would increase to $440 on June 1, 2015. This recalculation of his rent was based on an annual recertification of his income. On June 5, 2015, he submitted a written note contesting this new rent calculation and requesting a grievance hearing. On June 11, 2015, he received a letter advising him that, based on the information he had provided in certifying his current income, the rent calculation was correct. In accordance with the PHA’s grievance procedures, the responding official determined that, without additional information to justify his dispute, the matter was not contestable and a hearing would not be scheduled.
That same day, June 11, 2015, the resident received a separate letter notifying him that his lease would be terminated on or after June 25, 2015, for nonpayment of rent. This notice advised him that the lease would be terminated for failure to pay monthly rent when due, and for violation of a related lease term providing that rent was due in advance on the first of the month and that it would be considered delinquent if not paid by the fifth of the month. The notice advised him that he was $440 in arrears at the time. It also advised him of his rights under his lease and the PHA’s grievance procedures, including a right to file a grievance challenging the eviction notice. He didn’t file a grievance after receiving this notice of lease termination.
In July 2015, the PHA filed a landlord/tenant complaint in state court on the grounds that he had failed to pay his rent. The judge ruled in favor of the PHA in the amount of $880, representing two months of rent in arrears, plus costs. As required by the state, between July and November 2015, the resident paid his monthly rent into an escrow account, from which it was later disbursed to the PHA pursuant to a stipulated order entered by the state court in December 2015. The resident then ceased paying any rent at all for the apartment.
Beginning in February 2016, the PHA began serving the resident with amended notices of lease termination, providing him with an updated balance of arrears. Between February and July 2016, the PHA served the resident with six amended notices. By the date of the last notice—July 11, 2016—he was behind $2,042.50 on his rent. He didn’t file a grievance after receiving any of these six additional notices of lease termination.
The PHA then filed a complaint seeking to evict the resident and requested an order for possession. The resident then initiated this lawsuit in federal court.
Ruling: A Pennsylvania district court granted a judgment without a trial in favor of the PHA.
Reasoning: Each of the notices sent to the resident by the PHA had statements, as required by HUD regulations, notifying him that he had the right to request an informal settlement meeting in accordance with the PHA’s grievance procedures.
It was clear to the court that the resident was not denied a grievance hearing, and thus he was not deprived of his due process rights. The resident never submitted a grievance or requested a grievance hearing after any of the seven notices of lease termination served by the PHA. Having failed to invoke his right to a grievance hearing in a timely manner under HUD regulations or the PHA’s grievance procedures, the court stated that he couldn’t complain that he wasn’t afforded such a hearing by the PHA.
- Simpson v. Dauphin County Housing Authority, November 2017