PHA Not Liable for Section 8 Resident's Short-Term Fees
Facts: A Section 8 resident sued the local PHA for allegedly violating his rights by not including in its subsidy for voucher tenants month-to-month or short-terms fees that some owners charge.
The resident’s site has a policy of allowing tenants to select a lease term. If a tenant selects a month-to-month lease term, the site requires the tenant to pay rent and an additional month-to-month fee. If a tenant selects a one-year lease term, the site requires only a monthly rent and doesn’t charge the additional month-to month fee. The rent for both the month-to-month lease term and the one-year lease term are the same. The site includes in its leases a term that if a tenant remains in a unit beyond the expiration of a lease term and no new lease has been executed, the tenant is subject to the month-to-month fee.
On Jan. 21, 2013, the resident entered into a Housing Choice Voucher program lease at the site with an initial lease term of one year. The monthly rent was $541 and the lease contained an automatic renewal for a month-to-month term. After the expiration of the initial one-year lease term, the resident didn’t execute a new lease term and, per the terms of the automatic renewal provision, the resident’s lease was renewed as a month-to-month lease. The resident remained on a month-to-month lease from February 2014 through October 2015. In addition to his rent payment of $541 per month, the resident was assessed for this time period an additional month-to-month fee of $100 per month.
According to the resident, the PHA doesn’t treat the month-to-month fee or short-term fee as contract rent as the law requires, and the PHA’s failure to treat it as such caused the resident financial hardship.
The PHA asked the court to dismiss the case contending that the resident’s complaint failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted because the federal violation doesn’t provide for a private right of action.
Ruling: An Ohio district court granted the PHA’s request and dismissed the resident’s claims.
Reasoning: The court found no private right of action exists under Section 8 of the United States Housing Act. In determining whether a statute creates a federal right, the Supreme Court established a three-part test: (1) Congress must have intended that the provision in question benefit the plaintiff; (2) the plaintiff must demonstrate that the right protected by the statute is not so vague and amorphous that its enforcement would strain judicial competence; and (3) the statute must unambiguously impose a binding obligation on the states.
The statute in question concerns the calculation to be used by HUD to determine the amount of assistance to be offered to voucher program participants. The court looked at a prior case that considered the same issue and found that the precedent doesn’t create a private right of action. The prior court examined the overall intent of the Housing Act at Section 1437 and held it was a “congressional policy declaration which does not confer an enforceable right under 1983.” The court expressly held “1437 is devoid of rights-creating language” but instead presents “broad policy statements regarding the federal government’s goals in promoting decent and affordable housing.”
- Winston v. Cuyahoga Metro. Hous. Auth., November 2018