Resident's Crime Didn't Violate Rental Agreement
Facts: A resident appealed an eviction by the local PHA. From 2009 until 2011, the resident served as the president of the site’s tenant association. In July 2010, he received a check for $1,400 from the PHA to be used for resident participation activities as required by HUD. In 2011, the resident failed to comply with the PHA’s requests for financial documentation of the association checking account, and the PHA’s Financial Management Office confirmed that the check had been cashed and deposited into the resident’s personal bank account. He was charged with theft in the second degree, a Class C felony, and he pled guilty to the charge in May 2012.
The PHA evicted the resident, alleging that his theft of tenant association funds violated a term in his lease that stated: “Tenant . . . shall not engage in . . . any criminal activity . . . that threatens the health, safety, or right to peaceful enjoyment of Management’s public housing premises by other public housing residents or neighboring residents.” In a hearing in front of the eviction board, the PHA provided a manager’s report that stated the “Association funds which were to be used solely for the benefit of the individual residents . . . caused mistrust within the community causing a [threat to] health, safety, or right to peaceful enjoyment of Management’s public housing premises by other public housing residents or neighboring residents.”
Ruling: The Supreme Court of Hawaii reversed the eviction board’s order.
Reasoning: The court ruled that the PHA failed to carry its burden of showing that the resident’s theft threatened the health, safety, or peaceful enjoyment of the premises. Additionally, the resident’s theft didn’t meet the definition of criminal activity given in Hawai’i Administrative Rules § 17-2020, which governs the practice and procedure for terminating the tenancy of a person occupying a unit in a site that’s owned or operated by the PHA.
According to the court, the phrase “that threatens the health, safety, or peaceful enjoyment of the premises” qualifies the kind of criminal activity that violates the provision. To evict, there must be a connection between the tenant’s criminal activity and the threat to health, safety, or enjoyment of the premises by other residents or management employees. In this case, the evidence supporting a conclusion that the resident’s theft threatened the health, safety, or peaceful enjoyment of the premises was limited to the manager’s report asserting that the theft caused mistrust within the community. But there was no evidence of any tenant who reported feeling threatened by the resident’s theft. Additionally, there was no evidence as to what kind of programs the funds had been used for in the past or what programs were planned but then canceled due to the absence of funds. The court stated that it cannot be assumed that the resident’s theft was or would have been a threat.
- Kolio v. Hawai’i Public Housing Authority, May 2015