Would Accommodation of Disabled Resident Be Reasonable, Prevent Eviction?
Facts: The Boston Housing Authority (BHA) undertook the eviction of a resident who assaulted his twin brother on public housing development grounds, claiming that he constituted a threat to the safety of other tenants. The resident, in turn, claimed that he had a mental disability and argued that the BHA should have tried to reasonably accommodate his disability before terminating his tenancy.
The Housing Court division ruled that the BHA should have conducted an individualized assessment of the resident to find out if his disability could be reasonably accommodated and whether he really was a threat to the health or safety of the other residents at the site. The court ruled that the BHA did not comply with federal law or regulations or its own lease in commencing the eviction action. The court noted that the resident had established that his violent conduct was limited to one serious assault that occurred after his doctor had directed him to suspend his medication for bipolar disorder. Since no illegal drug use or activity was at issue, the resident's request to remain in his unit should have set in motion a specific, objective inquiry into the possibility of a reasonable accommodation, the court ruled.
The Boston Housing Authority appealed.
Decision: The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled that the Housing Court's decision could not stand as is and asked the court to rehear the case to determine whether an accommodation of the resident would, in fact, be reasonable under these circumstances.
Reasoning: While it is true that before a public housing authority may terminate the lease of a disabled resident because he poses a significant risk to the health or safety of others, it must make an individualized assessment regarding possible accommodation, there is no requirement to accommodate a disabled resident under all circumstances. Thus, the court ruled, the Housing Court should determine if accommodation is, in fact, reasonable, under these circumstances. An accommodation is not reasonable, the court noted, if it imposes undue financial and administrative burdens, or requires changes, adjustments, or modifications to existing programs that would be substantial.
- Boston Housing Authority v. Emmitt Bridgewaters, January 2009