The ACLU of Southern California has won a major victory for low-income residents of HUD-subsidized housing. At a news conference this morning, the ACLU announced the signed settlement agreement in Des Verney vs Alliance Housing Management [97-8576 AAH (Mcx)], a federal lawsuit filed last November on behalf of three residents of Holiday Venice, a HUD-subsidized unit in Venice California.
Under terms of the settlement, the housing management company will not require residents to sign the new lease agreement "mandated by HUD" holding them responsible for the crimes of visitors. Specifically, language added by Alliance Housing Management under what they termed new HUD mandated rules, would have subjected plaintiffs and their children to eviction based on the acts, occurring as far as three blocks away, of guests committed without tenants' knowledge or ability to prevent them.
Speaking at the news conference, ACLU staff attorney Daniel Tokaji said, "We hope that this settlement sends a loud and clear message: Public housing tenants have the same right as anyone else to be secure in their homes. It is a great victory, not only for these three women but for the Bill of Rights."
The lawsuit charged that the new mandatory lease agreement violated the constitution and current federal statutes and regulations for HUD-subsidized housing because it penalized tenants for conduct over which they have no control. The settlement prohibits the housing management company from retaliating in any way if residents do not sign the addendum. In addition, Alliance Housing agrees not to enforce the addendum against any other tenants of the Holiday Venice properties.
ACLU staff attorney Rocio Cordoba said at the news conference, "This settlement vindicates the constitutional rights of lowincome residents nationwide who refuse to become casualties of extreme "onestrike" eviction policies, such as the one advanced in the challenged lease addendum. All tenants regardless of economic status have the same fundamental rights to freely invite friends and family members into their homes without fear of eviction over circumstances beyond their control."
The federal lawsuit was filed last November on behalf of three residents of Holiday Venice, a HUD-subsidized housing unit located in Venice, California. The three women were threatened with eviction because they refused to sign a new lease agreement.
On December 10, Alliance Housing sent the ACLU of Southern California a letter saying it would withdraw its requirement that residents of its government-subsidized properties sign the new lease agreement. This settlement finalizes that agreement for all residents of the Venice development and sets a powerful precedent against similar attempts by other landlords in the future.
The legal action followed a September 1997 new lease addendumwhich Alliance Housing said was required by HUDthat would have subjected Holiday Venice residents to one-strike evictions if they, or any member of their household, guest or other person under the resident's control, were to "engage in or facilitate criminal activity...within a three block radius of the property." -
While all of the plaintiffs strongly support drug-free housing and a crime-free environment and have personally worked to promote these goals, they refused to sign the lease addendum because it would penalize them for the conduct of other persons over which they have absolutely no control.
The Notice of Change of Lease Terms stated, in part:
"Resident, any member of the Resident's household, or guest or other person under the Resident's control shall NOT engage in or facilitate criminal activity, including drug-related criminal activity, ON or NEAR the property premises, "NEAR" meaning within a three block radius of the property, but not limited to violent criminal, gang, prostitution or gambling criminal activity. "DRUG-RELATED CRIMINAL ACTIVITY" means the illegal manufacturer [sic], sale, distribution, use or possession with intent to manufacture, sell, distribute, or use a controlled substance....VIOLATION OF THE ABOVE PROVISIONS SHALL BE MATERIAL VIOLATION OF THE LEASE AND GOOD CAUSE FOR TERMINATION OF TENANCY."
On September 25, plaintiffs received a memo from Alliance threatening eviction because they had not signed the new rental lease agreement. Plaintiffs responded through attorneys in writing that they objected to the new agreement because it violated their basic civil liberties, but received no response. On November 3, Alliance Housing sent plaintiffs another memo threatening eviction as of December 1, for failure to sign the new mandatory rental agreement. The ACLU filed a federal lawsuit on November 21. The finalized settlement announced today removes the threat of eviction for any resident who does not sign the new lease agreement.