Resident Violated Terms of Settlement Agreement
Facts: A public housing resident appealed a trial court order granting possession of her apartment to the owner based on her violation of a settlement agreement. The resident claimed she didn’t breach the agreement. Specifically, she asserted that the owner failed to establish her conduct affected the health, safety, or right to peaceful enjoyment of the community.
In July 2015, the owner sued to evict the resident for breach of lease conditions other than nonpayment of rent. The parties resolved the dispute through arbitration, which was memorialized in a settlement agreement. For the current matter, the operative paragraph of the settlement provides: “[Tenant] shall not engage in abuse or a pattern of abuse of alcohol that affects the health, safety, or right to peaceful enjoyment of the premises of Oak Hill by other tenants.”
The following year, in May 2016, the resident was involved in altercations in and around the site that escalated into physical violence and threats. As a result, the owner filed a motion for an evidentiary hearing with the trial court, asking it to find resident in default of the settlement.
At the hearing, three law enforcement officers who responded to the incident, and another resident, testified against the resident. The officers described the resident as intoxicated and agitated, requiring her restraint when she lunged at others. She yelled profanities and threatened other residents.
The other resident testified that the intoxicated resident started a fight the night of the incident with another individual when she slapped the person’s face in her apartment. Based on the evidence, the trial court ruled that the intoxicated resident breached her settlement agreement and granted possession of the unit to the owner.
Ruling: A Pennsylvania appeals court upheld the trial court’s decision.
Reasoning: The resident didn’t dispute her intoxication at the time of the incident. She also didn’t dispute her involvement in the incident. She disputed only her responsibility in “causing” the incident.
The court stated that the breach of the settlement didn’t depend on whether the resident caused the incident to which the officers responded. Her unruly behavior was a significant part of, even if not the sole cause of, the incident that resulted in a call for police assistance. Her participation in such a public disturbance was sufficient. According to the court, the record supports the trial court’s findings that the resident was intoxicated and engaged in certain conduct while intoxicated. This conduct included hitting other persons, using profanity, and lunging toward others when police responded to the incident. These acts violated the settlement agreement.
- BCJ Management v. Cotton, July 2017