PHA's 30-Day Reporting Requirement Is Valid
Facts: A resident asked a court to overturn a local PHA’s decision to terminate her participation in the Section 8 program. The PHA sought to terminate the resident’s benefits because she didn’t report the births of two of her grandchildren in the household within 30 days as required by PHA’s administrative plan, and because she failed to pay rent for several months, which was claimed to be a “serious or repeated” lease violation.
The hearing officer found that the resident never informed the PHA of the births and that her rent was in arrears. The resident argued that the hearing officer committed an error of law by enforcing the requirement that she notify the PHA within 30 days of any birth in her household.
A lower court granted a judgment without a trial in the PHA’s favor. The resident appealed.
Ruling: A Massachusetts appeals court agreed with the lower court’s ruling.
Reasoning: The court ruled that the PHA’s 30-day reporting requirement is not contrary to law. Pursuant to federal regulations, public housing authorities must adopt written administrative plans covering occupancy policies in accordance with HUD requirements. These plans will be upheld unless they are contrary to unambiguous governing law, or are an unreasonable construction of the law. The term “prompt” in the HUD regulation is not specific, and the court could not say that 30 days is an unreasonable amount.
Also, the hearing officer has discretion to impose a lesser sanction than termination of benefits, even after finding grounds for termination. The hearing officer’s decision must reflect a factual determination relating to individual circumstances, demonstrate awareness of the discretionary authority to lower the penalty, and indicate whether the officer did or did not choose to exercise that discretion.
The court disagreed with the resident’s claims on appeal that the hearing officer failed to meet each of these standards. On the contrary, the hearing officer did make findings on mitigating circumstances. The hearing officer acknowledged the resident’s reasons for not reporting the births within 30 days and the officer acknowledged that the resident had paid back most of her rent arrearage by the time of the hearing.
The hearing officer also indicated his understanding of his obligation to consider all facts and circumstances by stating so at the end of his decision. He indicated that he chose not to exercise his discretion to mitigate the penalty by finding that “the participant did violate the above referenced program rules and the termination should be upheld.”
- Sanchez v. New Bedford PHA, June 2017