Resident Can't Sue PHA for Injuries
Facts: A resident in a public housing complex operated by the local PHA slipped and fell in a puddle of water that had leaked from a broken washing machine in a nearby laundry room as she was walking to her unit through a common hallway of her building. The fall resulted in injuries to her foot and ankle.
She sued the PHA, seeking damages under the habitability provisions of the city’s landlord-tenant laws. Specifically, the local housing law provided that a “landlord shall at all times during the tenancy maintain the dwelling unit in habitable condition” and it provided that “floors, walls, ceilings, stairways and railings be maintained in good repair[.]”
The trial court determined that the PHA, as a public body, had discretionary immunity under the state’s tort claims act, which provides that “every public body is immune from liability for “[a]ny claim based upon the performance of or the failure to exercise or perform a discretionary function or duty, whether or not the discretion is abused.” On this basis, the trial court granted the PHA’s request for a judgment without a trial and dismissed the resident’s claim.
The resident appealed, arguing that the trial court erred in applying the tort claims act to her claim because a claim brought under the state’s landlord-tenant law arises from a rental agreement and, therefore, isn’t a tort claim.
Ruling: The Oregon appeals court agreed with the lower court’s ruling.
Reasoning: The court concluded that the resident’s claim isn’t based on any duty that arises from an express or implied term of the lease. The resident’s amended complaint included a general allegation of violation of the rental agreement, but the resident acknowledged that she didn’t allege the breach of any term in the rental agreement itself. Her claim is based, instead, on the breach of statutory duties that arise from the landlord-tenant relationship under the state’s landlord-tenant laws.
Because the PHA’s duty to the resident arose from the landlord-tenant laws and not from the rental agreement itself, the trial court’s determination that the resident’s claim under the landlord-tenant laws is a tort claim subject to the state’s tort claim act. Therefore, the local PHA is entitled to discretionary immunity from her lawsuit.
- Jenkins v. Portland Housing Authority, December 2013