Resident Breached Housing Quality Standards by Not Paying Water Bills
Facts: An owner filed to evict a Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) resident for failure to pay rent. The resident then filed a third-party complaint against the PHA for allegedly unlawfully terminating her HCV benefits.
The dispute began when the resident failed to pay her water bill. The PHA was providing rent assistance, and the resident received a rent reduction of $62 per month that was intended to be applied to her water bill. It wasn’t paid. The PHA sent several notices to the resident advising her that her water bill of $640.97 was past due, and if not paid in full, “[f]ailure to pay all past due utility charges will result in questioning your continued eligibility for the Program and possible termination of the HAP contract.” She still failed to pay any of the overdue water bill.
As a result, the PHA sent the resident a notice that she was in violation of federal regulation 24 C.F.R. § 982.404 for a breach of a Housing Quality Standard. On Dec. 9, 2013, the PHA sent her a letter stating that she had failed to remedy the breach by the deadline of Dec. 4, 2013, and a hearing was scheduled for Dec. 19, 2013, to determine if she was eligible for continued participation in the Rent Assistance Program. The notice stated that, as a result of the breach, her Housing Assistance Contract was likely to be terminated on Feb. 28, 2014.
The PHA also sent a notice to the resident’s current landlord stating that the resident was in the process of being questioned by the program and, if terminated, the PHA would no longer be paying any rent assistance on the resident’s behalf.
At the hearing, the resident acknowledged she didn’t pay the water bill, which was added to the owner’s tax bill. She explained that she didn’t pay it because she had break-ins at her house, causing damage to the house, and her car was stolen from in front of her house, which increased her expenses. She also felt the water bill was too high. The hearing officer found that she had failed to follow HUD regulations and she was terminated from the Rent Assistance Program.
In her lawsuit, the resident maintained that the hearing examiner’s decision was wrong because there was no Housing Quality Standards breach, as the water to her old residence was never turned off, and there were mitigating circumstances. She sought to have the administrative determination reversed and to be immediately issued a housing voucher or certificate. The PHA argued that she violated the Housing Quality Standards when she failed to pay the water bill. The judge granted the PHA’s request to dismiss the case, stating that the PHA had proper grounds to terminate her rent assistance based on her nonpayment of the water bill. The resident appealed.
Ruling: A Wisconsin appeals court upheld the lower court’s ruling.
Reasoning: The appeals court ruled that the lower court was correct in granting a judgment in the PHA’s favor. There were no disputed facts, only different interpretations of the federal regulations. The judge ruled that the interpretation given by the PHA was reasoned and comports with regulations. And the resident’s interpretation was unreasonable and unworkable. The resident breached a Housing Quality Standard duty when she failed to pay her water bill.
- Love v. Smith, December 2015