Resident Submitted Photographs in Lieu of Inspections
Facts: A Section 8 resident failed an initial inspection to check whether she’s maintaining her unit in compliance with federal standards. Federal law requires that all housing assisted by the voucher program meet certain housing quality standards at the start of occupancy and throughout the tenancy. In order to be eligible for continued voucher program benefits, a tenant must let the local PHA inspect the unit at reasonable times and after reasonable notice. Some Section 8 tenants qualify for biannual inspections, but this Section 8 resident didn’t qualify due to past problems with the condition of her unit.
The resident repeatedly requested as a reasonable accommodation for her disabilities that the inspection be delayed and that the inspector not take any photographs. The PHA granted these requests and eventually an inspector inspected her unit. The unit failed the inspection due to significant paper, magazines, and other clutter in the bedroom. The inspector noted on the report that the clutter was a trip hazard and blocked the required egress from the bedroom window. And the inspector noted that it appeared that the resident had moved clutter from the other rooms to her bedroom. Although he didn’t include this in the inspection report, the inspector was concerned that the paper debris and other clutter also could create a fire hazard if not corrected.
The inspector scheduled a re-inspection of the unit, and the resident requested as an accommodation that her re-inspection be delayed. The PHA granted this request and scheduled her re-inspection for Aug. 8, 2013. On Aug. 7, 2013, the resident requested as an accommodation that she be permitted to take photographs of her unit and submit those photographs, instead of having a physical inspection of her unit.
The PHA responded that federal regulations require a qualified inspector to conduct in-person inspections. The PHA offered the resident an accommodation of: (1) postponing her inspection until Aug. 22, 2013; (2) sending an inspector other than the one who had conducted the prior inspection; (3) allowing only the inspector to enter her unit and not any site management staff; and (4) inspecting only the item that failed the previous inspection, ensuring a brief encounter.
The resident denied consent for the inspection and sued the PHA. The PHA asked the court to dismiss her claim.
Ruling: An Oregon district court granted the PHA’s request.
Reasoning: The court stated the resident’s requested accommodation to submit her own photographs as her “re-inspection” was not necessary to afford her an equal opportunity to use and enjoy her unit. Granting such an accommodation would violate federal law and would constitute a fundamental alteration of the Section 8 voucher program and its required inspections.
The nature of the inspection program is for the PHA to conduct in-person inspections. Allowing residents to conduct their own inspections by taking and submitting photographs of their units fundamentally alters that program and potentially endangers the health and safety of the resident being inspected and the remaining residents of the site. The court noted that this is particularly true in cases like this, where the resident subject to the inspection has already failed an inspection.
The court also noted that the resident had permitted such inspections in the past and had requested that persons enter her unit for maintenance and cleaning. Thus, she failed to show that her requested accommodation was necessary.
- Doe v. Housing Authority of Portland, February 2015