Resident's Benefits Terminated for Violating Program Rules
Facts: A Section 8 resident challenged the local PHA’s decision to terminate his benefits. The resident claimed that he has a qualifying disability under the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and Americans with Disabilities Act. He further alleged that he requested an accommodation for his disability and the PHA failed to provide him with a reasonable accommodation.
When the resident applied for Section 8 housing, in the “Reasonable Accommodation” section of a form titled “Personal Declaration and Questionnaire for Rental Assistance,” he checked a box stating he needed an accommodation, indicating that he needed someone to assist him with the form. The resident asked his friend to help him complete the application. Subsequently, he was granted housing assistance.
On numerous occasions, the PHA informed the resident of program rules such as the requirement to report changes in income and promptly notify the PHA in writing when the family was away from the unit for an extended period of time. The resident was investigated as a result of an anonymous complaint that he was making thousands of dollars working for a company, that he had received a substantial insurance settlement from a car accident, and that he had been going to Iraq and staying for months at a time. The investigation revealed that he had failed to report his employment and income changes in writing and didn’t request approval for two extended absences when he went to Iraq. Based on the investigation, the PHA sent him a letter informing him that it intended to terminate his benefits.
At a subsequent administrative hearing, the resident testified that because he was “disabled with memory” he had requested assistance in completing the initial personal declaration and questionnaire for rental assistance. He also testified that he didn’t report his employment and income changes because the 14-day reporting requirement was never made clear to him. Further, he stated his attorney told him he didn’t have to report the insurance settlement claim. And finally, he didn’t inform the PHA about his two 30-day trips to Iraq because his father was ill and he was upset and not thinking clearly.
A trial court ruled against the resident, and the resident appealed.
Ruling: A California appeals court upheld the lower court’s judgment.
Reasoning: The resident didn’t provide any evidence of a mental impairment or disability. While memory loss may qualify as a mental impairment, he didn’t provide a record of having this impairment. Because the resident didn’t meet his burden of showing that he suffered from a disability, there was no need for the PHA to give him an accommodation.
In addition, while the resident indicated that he was disabled on his rental application, this alone didn’t put the PHA on notice that he needed an accommodation. To trigger the FHA requirements, an owner must know of both the disability and the resident’s desire for an accommodation for that disability. Here, the resident needed to communicate to the PHA the need for an accommodation because of his memory disability, rather than merely indicating he was disabled.
- Al-Awadi v. Housing Authority for the County of San Diego, February 2014