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Gray v. Allegheny County Housing Authority

November 19, 2010

LANCE GRAY
v.
ALLEGHENY COUNTY HOUSING AUTHORITY, APPELLANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mary Hannah Leavitt, Judge

ORDER

AND NOW, this 19th day November, 2010, it is hereby ORDERED that the above-captioned opinion filed August 25, 2010, shall be designated OPINION rather than MEMORANDUM OPINION, and it shall be reported.

Submitted: May 21, 2010

BEFORE: HONORABLE BERNARD L. McGINLEY, Judge, HONORABLE MARY HANNAH LEAVITT, Judge, HONORABLE JOHNNY J. BUTLER, Judge.

OPINION

The Allegheny County Housing Authority (Authority) appeals an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County (trial court), which reinstated Lance Gray's public housing assistance benefits. The dispositive issue in this appeal is whether Gray committed a violation of his lease serious enough to warrant termination of his housing assistance. Because the record is insufficient to make such a determination, we vacate and remand.

The basic facts relevant to this appeal are not in dispute. Gray is unable to work because of his mental health challenges, and his income is limited to Federal Supplemental Security Income Benefits. Because of his limited income, he has received assistance with his rent on an apartment located in Monroeville, Pennsylvania, since November 15, 2007. As of November 1, 2008, his monthly rent was $505, and he received monthly assistance in the amount of $414. Gray's housing assistance is provided under Section 8 of the United States Housing Act of 1937, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §1437f, a program administered by the Authority.

On January 13, 2009, Gray's landlord obtained a judgment against him in the amount of $266.07 as a result of unpaid rent. Gray was evicted on March 2, 2009. On April 16, 2009, the Authority issued Gray a notice of intention to terminate his housing assistance payments. The notice stated two grounds for the termination: his eviction and his serious violation of his lease. In response, Gray requested a grievance hearing.

At the hearing, Gray admitted that a judgment had been entered against him in the amount of $266.07, which consisted of $129.07 in unpaid rent and $137 in costs and fees. He explained that he has comprehension problems and had not realized that paying the amount of the judgment would resolve the problem. He stated that he was only told that he had to move and that he was going to be locked out. In any case, on May 21, 2009, Gray paid the amount owed, in full, to his landlord. Gray's counsel argued in light of the satisfaction of judgment, Gray's housing assistance should be reinstated.

The Authority's hearing officer found that Gray suffered mental impairments that limited his ability to understand. Nevertheless, the hearing officer affirmed the termination of benefits.

Gray's appeal was governed by two provisions of a regulation adopted by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The first requires termination where "a family [has been] evicted. for serious violation of the lease," 24 C.F.R. §982.552(b)(2), and the second provides that continued eligibility requires a family "not [to] commit any serious or repeated violation of the lease," 24 C.F.R. §982.551(e). The hearing officer held that "[t]he regulations are clear that an eviction does result in a termination of benefits" because "an eviction does constitute a serious violation of the lease." Reproduced Record at 17a (R.R. ___).*fn1 Accordingly, the hearing officer upheld the Authority's termination of Gray's assistance payments.

Gray appealed to the trial court. The trial court agreed with Gray that the hearing officer erred in concluding Gray's eviction alone constituted a serious violation of the lease. The trial court also rejected the Authority's claim that the non-payment of any portion of rent owed under a lease in itself constitutes a serious lease violation. The trial court sustained Gray's appeal and reinstated his benefits. The Authority now appeals to this Court.

On appeal,*fn2 the Authority argues that the trial court erred. First, it contends that the trial court misapprehended the hearing officer's statement that an eviction constituted a serious lease violation. Second, it contends that the trial court erred in considering mitigating factors. Third, it contends that the trial court erred in holding that failure to pay rent was not a serious violation of the lease.*fn3

In its first point of error, the Authority asserts that when the hearing officer stated that "the regulations are clear that an eviction does constitute a serious violation of the lease," he meant to state that the lease violation in this case was serious because the tenant was evicted. The Authority argues that, in any case, this difference in expression is of no moment because the hearing officer reached the correct conclusion. Gray counters that the hearing officer held that an eviction alone necessitates a termination of benefits, which is not what the HUD regulations provide. Rather, the eviction must be the result of a ...


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