Resident Can Keep Unit Despite Guest's Drug Possession

Facts: For the past 19 years, a resident has lived with her two children in a unit managed by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA). The unit was originally leased to her husband, but he moved out, leaving the unit to the resident and his children, whom he would visit occasionally.

After two search warrants were executed in the unit, NYCHA filed charges against the resident for undesirability. NYCHA claimed that the resident, along with her husband, on Nov. 1, 2007, “did unlawfully possess, sell, or attempt to sell a controlled substance, to wit, heroin—a quantity of which was recovered during execution of a search warrant.” NYCHA also claimed that the resident permitted an unauthorized occupant to take up residence in her unit without obtaining the prior written consent of the housing manager.

At an administrative hearing, the resident presented one witness and documentary evidence to show that she had been a drug user, but is on her way to recovery; that she has been a good tenant and neighbor and deserves a second chance; and that her husband doesn’t reside with her in the unit.

The hearing officer recommended termination of the tenancy, stating that the evidence presented by NYCHA demonstrated that the resident and her guest were associated with illegal drug-related activities from 2007 to 2009. NYCHA’s board approved the hearing officer’s decision. The resident asked the court to review and reverse the hearing officer’s determination.

Ruling: A New York court annulled the hearing officer’s decision and ordered NYCHA to reconsider and impose a lesser penalty.

Reasoning: According to the court, NYCHA’s procedures don’t permit termination of the tenancy where the offender has been removed from the household and where the resident has had an unblemished record of compliance with housing rules. Here, until these incidents involving search warrants, the resident had an unblemished record of compliance with NYCHA rules, and during the execution of the warrants she was not found to be in possession of any controlled substance. The controlled substance was recovered from her husband, and there was no indication that there was illegal drug activity taking place within the premises, such as the presence of scales, empty vials, glassines, large amounts of money, or weapons. Also, her husband isn’t a resident of the unit and has been removed.

Under these circumstances, the court believed that the penalty of tenancy termination, which would render the resident and her children homeless with all of the consequences that homelessness entails, was an inappropriate consequence for her husband’s actions [Vega v. NYCHA, February 2012].