State's Right-to-Remedy Law Doesn't Apply to Public Housing Resident's Eviction
Facts: A PHA sued to evict a resident because he violated the terms of his lease by engaging in “drug-related criminal activity.” Specifically, he smoked marijuana in his unit.
An officer patrolling the hallways of the site smelled the scent of marijuana on the resident’s floor. After he knocked on the resident’s door, the smell of marijuana intensified in the hallway when the door was opened. When the officer inquired about the smell, the resident initially stated that the odor was from bug spray, and minutes later he attributed the smell to his cooking. Based on his interaction with the resident and 14 years of experience as a public safety officer, the officer determined that the resident was smoking marijuana.
Four days later, the PHA notified the resident that he violated the terms of his lease by engaging in illegal drug use. Not long after, the PHA gave the resident a 14-day notice of eviction for engaging in illegal drug use. This eviction notice didn’t give the resident an opportunity to remedy or cure the lease violation.
While the resident conceded that smoking marijuana is grounds for eviction because it is “drug-related criminal activity” as defined in his lease, he argued that under state law he has a right to remedy or cure the violation to avoid eviction. An appeals court agreed with his reasoning, and the PHA appealed.
Ruling: The Wisconsin Supreme Court reversed the appeals court’s decision.
Reasoning: The court ruled that federal law preempted the state’s right-to-remedy provision. The court reasoned that the state law stood as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the objectives of Congress as set forth with regard to drug-free public housing. This state law also conflicted with the method chosen by Congress, which was to allow public housing authorities to evict tenants for engaging in any drug-related criminal activity.
- Milwaulkee City Housing Authority v. Cobb, March 2015