PHA Not Required to Give Resident Opportunity to Cure Lease Violations
Facts: A public housing resident signed a year-long lease. The lease stated that it “shall automatically be renewed for successive terms of 12 months” unless modified or terminated in accordance with certain lease provisions. On the day of signing, the resident met with a site employee, to review the lease terms. At that meeting, the resident was accompanied by the father of her three children. The employee asked her if the father would be living in the apartment, and she said that he would not be part of the household. The employee told her that under the lease terms, she was required to inform them of any changes to the household’s income or composition.
Months later, the employee discovered that the resident and the father of her children had married. The couple’s marriage license listed the subsidized apartment as the residence and a site employee told the manager that he saw the father continuously at the site. The manager requested that the father attend the resident’s standard recertification meeting. At the meeting, she asked him to confirm that he hadn’t been living at the apartment. While he was pulling papers out of his wallet, the manager saw a form indicating that he was a registered sex offender. The site confirmed that the father was a registered sex offender and discovered that he had previously listed the resident’s apartment as his address in his sex offender registration.
Shortly after the recertification meeting, the site gave the resident a 30-day notice that her lease was being terminated at the end of the lease term. The notice stated that if she didn’t vacate the apartment by Dec. 31, the site would bring an unlawful detainer action. The term “unlawful detainer” refers to the conduct of a tenant who’s in possession of an apartment or leased property and refuses to leave the premises upon the expiration or termination of the lease.
As reasons for termination, the notice cited the father’s residence at the apartment and the resident’s failure to stay current on her utility bills and subsequent decision to transfer her utility account to the father. The notice didn’t offer her a chance to cure the alleged violations, but it informed her of her right under federal law to request a grievance hearing.
She requested an informal grievance hearing on her termination notice and submitted letters from herself and other witnesses. The housing manager upheld the decision to terminate her tenancy. She then requested a formal grievance hearing. The hearing officer considered documentation from the site and heard testimony from several witnesses. The hearing officer upheld the termination decision, concluding after reviewing all required policies and procedures in both the lease and the HUD regulations that the site could proceed with the termination of her tenancy.
In 2015, the site filed a summons and complaint for unlawful detainer. The complaint alleged that the resident had remained unlawfully on the premises after her lease had ended on Dec. 31, 2014. The trial court ruled that she had in fact violated the terms of her lease. The resident appealed the trial court’s decision, arguing that state law requires she be given a chance to cure the lease violations before bringing an unlawful detainer action during the lease term.
Ruling: A Washington appeals court upheld the lower court’s judgment for the PHA.
Reasoning: Here, the court pointed out that the detainer action wasn’t initiated during a lease term. A lawfully terminated public housing lease doesn’t automatically renew at the end of its term, and because the PHA lawfully terminated the tenant’s lease, it wasn’t required to give the tenant an opportunity to cure her lease violations before filing the unlawful detainer action once the lease term ended. The resident received all of the process she was due where she received notice of the grounds for terminating her lease and was afforded an opportunity to argue her case in a formal hearing before a neutral decision maker.
- Kitsap County Consolidated Housing Authority v. Henry-Levingston, November 2016