PHA Not Required to Grant Resident’s Transfer Request
Facts: An 84-year-old resident living in a one-bedroom unit submitted a request to the local PHA for a larger unit, along with a doctor’s verification indicating that the small size of her unit had created stress that contributed to her poor health. The PHA denied her request.
A week later, the resident submitted a grievance seeking review of the PHA’s decision. On the grievance form, the resident claimed that her unit was too small, and that the lack of space was creating significant stress for her. She noted that she had suffered a stroke in 1993 and two strokes in February 2011, and expressed concern that she might have another stroke due to the stressful living situation. She also stated on the form that she’s diabetic, and she bangs her feet and knees while maneuvering through the unit. She further added that, at some point in the past, she broke an ankle and that due to the residual discomfort she has difficulty moving around the unit. She also expressed concern that if there were an emergency, responders wouldn’t be able to assist her.
At the grievance hearing, a PHA staff member testified that, based on the doctor’s documentation, the PHA’s Reasonable Accommodation office denied the request. The PHA doesn’t recognize differences in one-bedroom unit sizes, and the resident’s disabilities were insufficient to merit a transfer. The hearing officer denied the resident’s grievance, concluding that “the testimony and evidence presented at the hearing established that [the resident’s] medical condition does not support the reasonable accommodation request for a bigger 1 bedroom unit.”
The resident appealed in trial court. During her appeal, she advised the trial court that the unit next door to hers was larger and unoccupied. The trial court granted her statutory appeal and ordered that she be permitted to move to the unit next door or to an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)-accessible unit at the site.
The PHA then filed a motion for reconsideration, asserting that the unit next door was occupied, and that the resident didn’t need an ADA-accessible unit. The trial court granted the PHA’s motion, vacated its previous order, and ordered that if or when a larger one-bedroom unit becomes available at the site, it should be made available to the resident. The PHA appealed this decision.
Ruling: A Pennsylvania appeals court reversed the trial court’s ruling.
Reasoning: The trial court had concluded that the PHA had failed to prove that the request was against policy or regulations. But the appeals court concluded that it was the resident’s burden to establish that she met the policy requirements. Her claimed physical conditions of stress, slow blood circulation, and prior strokes didn’t qualify her for a transfer. And the evidence offered wasn’t sufficient to establish a handicap and a resulting right to a reasonable accommodation. The court concluded that there’s nothing that requires the PHA to transfer the resident or distinguish the sizes of one-bedroom units.
- Bennett v. Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh, October 2012