Resident May Not Have Received Pre-Termination Hearing
Facts: A resident qualified for a voucher in 2011 and used it to obtain a lease at an apartment site. The resident’s lease and Housing Assistance Payment contract made the PHA responsible for paying the entire monthly rental cost to the owner directly and assigned the resident responsibility for paying electricity, natural gas, water, and sewer bills. To cover those utility costs, the resident received monthly checks from the PHA.
On Dec. 11, 2013, the owner sought to evict the resident for unpaid utility payments and late fees. The resident didn’t dispute the fact that he failed to make utility payments using his utility allowance. The total amount of utility costs at issue in the complaint was $161.00 plus $62.55 in late fees. Sometime prior to Feb. 6, 2014, the PHA notified the resident that it would terminate his rental assistance on Feb. 28 based upon the state court eviction.
The PHA received a request from the resident for a hearing regarding the termination of his voucher. The PHA issued a second notice of termination on Feb. 11, reiterating that rental assistance would cease on Feb. 28. The PHA scheduled an informal hearing for April 23, 2014, which the resident attended. Because the resident indicated that he was trying to appeal the underlying eviction in state court, the hearing officer ordered the hearing continued, and a subsequent hearing occurred on June 24, 2014.
The hearing officer held that the resident committed a serious lease violation by “keeping the utility allowance checks and not paying the utilities.” She further found that the district court had issued a warrant of restitution evicting the resident for the same underlying conduct and that HUD regulations require the termination of “program assistance for a family evicted from housing assisted under the program for serious violation of the lease.”
The resident sued, alleging that the termination of his benefits failed to satisfy procedural due process standards and applicable HUD regulations. He argued that the PHA didn’t comply with HUD regulations that require a pre-termination hearing in instances where a PHA terminates a voucher based upon a beneficiary’s commission of a serious lease violation. The local PHA asked the court for a judgment without a trial in its favor.
Ruling: A Maryland district court denied the PHA’s request and ordered the PHA to file an answer pertaining to the timing of the pre-termination hearing.
Reasoning: The HUD regulations explicitly require that voucher recipients receive “an opportunity for an informal hearing before [a housing authority] terminates housing assistance payments for the family under an outstanding [Housing Assistance Payment] contract.” Here, the PHA terminated the resident’s voucher after finding that the resident was evicted for a serious lease violation. A pre-termination hearing was therefore required.
However, it was unclear whether a hearing occurred prior to the termination of the resident’s voucher. While the PHA indicated in its Feb. 11, 2014, notice of termination that the resident’s voucher would terminate on Feb. 28, the PHA insists that the resident presented “no evidence at all that he actually was terminated from the program on” that date. But the resident’s reference to the Feb. 28 termination deadline in his filings allowed the judge to draw the inference that termination did in fact occur on that date, well before the initial April 23, 2014, hearing. The judge concluded that a genuine dispute of material fact exists as to whether the PHA terminated the resident’s voucher prior to holding a hearing.
- Hayward v. Brown, September 2016