LAGN Housing Assistance Reform Proposals for
Niagara County Department of Social Services
 -
Tenant Accountablity

3. Institute accountability measures to promote stability
and discourage “waste”.

There is no shame in finding yourself in need of help. Taxpayers understand the need and have agreed to fund governmental assistance programs with their tax dollars. Non-profit organizations have made it their mission to lighten the load of those less fortunate. But this does not excuse the person in need from being accountable for their actions. If a needy person breaks the law they face the same penalties as everyone else. The same holds true for Leased Housing Clients on a housing voucher.

According to HUD Title 24 CFR Part 982.404(b) – HQS breach caused by the family.

(B) Family obligation. (1) The family is responsible for a breach of the HQS that is caused by any of the following:

(i) The family fails to pay for any utilities that the owner is not required to pay for, but
which are to be paid by the tenant;

(ii) The family fails to provide and maintain any appliances that the owner is not required to provide, but which are to be provided by the tenant; or

(iii) Any member of the household or guest damages the dwelling unit or premises (damages beyond ordinary wear and tear).

(2) If a HQS breach caused by the family is life threatening, the family must correct the defect within no more than 24 hours. For other family-caused defects, the family must correct the defect within no more than 30 calendar days (or any PHA-approved extension).

(3) If the family has caused a breach of the HQS, the PHA must take prompt and vigorous action to enforce the family obligations. The PHA may terminate assistance for the family in accordance with § 982.552

There is however an exception to this rule when it comes to the DSS. The DSS Client/Tenant can’t be denied access to the housing voucher program even if he or she breached the HQS standard, as sited, by the Federal government or the most basic Landlord/Tenant relationship.  This is a result of the landmark decision, CALLAHAN v. CAREY,1 made on December 5, 1979 by the New York State Supreme Court, to provide beds for 750 homeless men. This decision by New York State Supreme Court Justice Tyler was the first time that the City and State governments were ordered to provide shelter from the elements for homeless individuals in New York City.

It is the belief of the LAGN that this decision has slowly morphed into a state wide, unsustainable, social support program, which includes the provision of publicly funded, state mandated housing in perpetuity. If we as landlords are to believe what we have been told, then unlike the HUD Leased Housing program there is no consequence that can befall a DSS Client receiving housing vouchers who breaches a rental agreement. We further believe that the state of housing in Niagara County has deteriorated in large part due to this judicial decision and subsequent policy revisions.

It is the opinion of the LAGN that this decision has exacerbated housing conditions in at least two ways; the lack of care on the part of the TANF client as agreed to in the Landlord/Tenant relationship and no monetary consequence for a DSS Client’s actions.

First, in the absence of any tenant accountability, penalty, or threat of program termination, the patterns of behavior with respect to care of the dwelling by some DSS Client/Tenants have degenerated into abuse. This represents a total disregard and abandonment of their responsibilities under the Landlord/Tenant relationship.

The second has to deal with the ability of the landlord to successfully exercise the remedies granted in court. When a landlord takes a tenant to court for breach of the rental agreement he files a Non Payment Petition to Recover Possession and makes a demand for monies owed. If successful the landlord is issued a warrant granting him the right to recover possession and is awarded compensatory damages.

In the case of the DSS Client/Tenant, it is historically improbable that the landlord will ever collect on the damages awarded. The DSS Client/Tenant is often referred to as “judgment proof” because in order to qualify for public assistance he must show a lack of financial resources. This renders the remedy of damages fruitless.

In effect, the result of behaving irresponsibly has no consequence. Without consequence there is no need to modify behavior. Society winds up supporting and funding a housing assistance program that endorses bad behavior.

It is interesting to point out that there is one known measure of accountability in the DSS. If the DSS Client does not report for a scheduled appointment with a caseworker, that client may be sanctioned. That sanction is to lose benefits for 45 days. The caveat with this sanction is that the landlord who rents to this individual is not notified of the sanction and is the one who financially suffers from the penalty. The Client remains in the dwelling and the landlord doesn’t get paid.

The current system can’t be what our state government intended and must be addressed.

  1. “Callahan v. Carey” Caselaw.findlaw.com N.p., 4 June 2009. Web 21 May 2013
    <http://caselaw.findlaw.com/ny-court-of-appeals/1102948.html>

 

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