Months after providing defendant a thirty-day notice of termination, plaintiff filed a complaint to terminate defendant's tenancy in a federally subsidized public housing unit. A jury found in plaintiff's favor, and the district court entered a judgment of eviction. Defendant appealed this judgment to the circuit court, which affirmed. Defendant now appeals by leave granted. We affirm.
Defendant rented from plaintiff a federally subsidized housing unit where she and her children have lived since 1991. In March or April 1996, defendant's brother, who had been in a homeless shelter, moved into her unit on a temporary basis. In June 1996, Ann Arbor police officers raided defendant's unit, telling her that a named individual was selling drugs from her unit. However, the name given was that of defendant's son, who had been in prison for approximately two years at the time of the raid. Approximately one month after the raid, the police came to defendant's apartment and told her that her brother had been selling drugs from her apartment. An Ann Arbor police officer had made controlled purchases of crack cocaine from her brother in the vicinity of defendant's unit. At some point after the June raid, defendant asked her brother to move out.
After a jury trial, which resulted in a judgment of eviction, and an unsuccessful appeal to the circuit court, defendant appeals to this Court by leave granted. Defendant claims that the trial court erred in
In a case of first impression in Michigan, we must determine whether, under federal public housing law, a public housing agency (PHA) can evict a tenant pursuant to the requirements of 42 U.S.C. 1437d(l)(5)
Recently, in Rucker v. Davis, 203 F.3d 627 (C.A.9, 2000), a federal circuit court addressed whether a tenant must be personally aware of drug-related criminal activity engaged in by a household member on or near the premises to be evicted, and in doing so interpreted the statutory provision at issue in the present case, subsection 1437d(l)(5). Id. at 636. The Rucker court, in an exhaustive opinion, held that even purportedly "innocent tenants" may be evicted because "the express statutory language ... evinces a clear congressional intent to authorize termination of tenancy regardless of whether the tenant was aware that his household member or guest was selling, manufacturing, distributing, or using drugs." Id. at 637. We agree with the Rucker court's analysis
In the present case, defendant argues that an innocent tenant may not be evicted because federal law requires knowledge or culpability to terminate a public housing tenancy. Defendant relies on 42 U.S.C. 1437d(l)(5), which at the time the lease was signed provided:
According to defendant, the legislative history and the structure of the act show a congressional intent when using the phrase "under the tenant's control" to protect innocent tenants from eviction based on illegal activity by their guests. Defendant further claims that the definition of "control" implies knowledge of the actions of the person controlled. Defendant contends that she could not be evicted because her brother, who the parties do not dispute was a guest in her household,
In Rucker, supra, the court addressed subsection 1437d(l)(5), noting that judicial construction is inappropriate where there is no ambiguity in the words of a statute. Id. at 636. Analyzing subsection 1437d(l)(5), the court explained:
As in the Rucker case, the first two conditions are not contested here;
Applying basic principles of grammar, we conclude that this construction of the public housing lease statute is untenable. The clause at issue—"public housing tenant, any member of the tenant's household or any guest or other person under the tenant's control"—includes three separate categories of people: (1) the tenant, (2) any household member, and (3) any guest or other person under the tenant's control. The phrase "under the tenant's control" has no relationship whatsoever to either of the first two
In the present case, defendant seems to suggest that she had no control over her brother, who was a guest in her home, and therefore she may not be evicted. On the basis of the clear statutory language and the Rucker analysis, we find defendant's argument without merit.
Defendant contends throughout her argument that knowledge of the drug-related criminal activity is necessary for her to be evicted. However, the Rucker court addressed this same argument and found it contrary to the plain language of the statute:
While further addressing the plain language of the statute, the Rucker court explained:
In other words, the plain language of the statute allows for the eviction of purportedly "innocent tenants."
We note that in the present case the tenant focuses on her "innocent" status when it comes to knowing about the drug-related criminal activity as well as her "prompt and effective steps to resolve the problem." To be sure, an eviction under the circumstances presented in this case is a harsh result; an apparently blameless tenant is evicted for actions of which she had no knowledge. However, we note, as did the Rucker court, that the PHA need not utilize the extreme measure of eviction. Instead, even when there is cause to evict, the PHA has discretion to conform its actions to the particular circumstances of the case. Rucker, supra at 638-640; 24 C.F.R. 966.4(1)(5)(i). Addressing the tenant's focus on the eviction of "innocent tenants," the Rucker court wrote:
The public housing lease statute, although it authorizes eviction in a broad range of cases, is notably silent as to when termination of tenancy is required. By structuring the statute in this way, Congress implicitly conveyed discretion
In the present case, where defendant had no knowledge of the drug-related activity of her guest, plaintiff had discretion to evict defendant, but such action was not mandated by statute.
Defendant further argues that the overall structure of the act supports a conclusion that plaintiff was required to show knowledge on defendant's part. Specifically, defendant points to 42 U.S.C. 1437d(r), which, at the time she was evicted, provided a procedure by which a tenant evicted for drug-related activity might become eligible for public housing:
Defendant argues that this provision would allow a culpable tenant to be "rehabilitated," and thus be eligible for reentering public housing, quicker than a nonculpable tenant. However, this interpretation ignores the parenthetical at the end of the subsection, which allows rehabilitation to be waived "if the circumstances leading to eviction no longer exist." Moreover, the Rucker court noted that a section of the act in effect through 1996, 42 U.S.C. 1437d(c)(4)(A)(iii), reinforces its conclusion that subsection 1437d(l)(5) authorizes termination of tenancy regardless of the tenant's knowledge of the drug-related criminal activity. Rucker, supra at 640-641. The court explained that if an innocent tenant could not have been evicted in the first place, then there would have been no need for Congress to write subsection 1437d(c)(4)(A)(iii), which specifically waives the three-year prohibition period from receiving a statutory preference in applying for the public housing for members of the family of an individual who neither participated in nor had knowledge of the drug-related criminal activity that formed the basis of the original eviction. Id.
In summary, we agree with the Rucker court's analysis and adopt the quoted language from that decision as our own. Accordingly, we hold that a public housing tenancy may be terminated regardless of whether the tenant had knowledge of the drug-related activity conducted on or off the premises by the tenant, a member of the tenant's household, or a guest or another person under the tenant's control. Consequently, defendant's argument that the district court failed to give proper jury instructions because it did not require the jury to find that she knew of the illegal activity is without merit.