MD State Courts May Review Evictions in Federally-Subsidized Housing

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State Courts May Review Evictions in Federally-Subsidized Housing

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals recently held that state courts may review and exercise discretion when hearing an eviction case concerning a tenant in federally-subsidized rental housing. The decision impacts the ability of a rental property owner to evict a tenant for drug-related criminal activity in federally-subsidized rental housing.

In the case of Wesley Hosford v. Chateau Foghorn LP , the Court considered the interplay of tenant protections in state eviction law with federal law designed to rid federally-subsidized rental housing of criminal drug activity. In 2014, during extermination for bedbugs, a contractor for the property owner discovered a marijuana plant in the bathtub of a tenant. The property manager contacted the Baltimore City Police, which confiscated the plant and issued the tenant, Wesley Hosford, a criminal citation for possession of marijuana.

The owner initiated an eviction action, claiming that the tenant’s criminal drug activity had breached the lease. As a Section 8 project-based apartment building leased exclusively to elderly and disabled individuals, the owner argued that federal law granted it complete discretion to evict a tenant engaged in criminal drug activity. Hosford countered that tenant protections under state law must be read in concert with the federal law, and that due to his medical condition, possession of the marijuana did not constitute a “substantial” breach of the lease that warranted eviction.

Ultimately the Court found no conflict between state and federal law, and held that while drug-related criminal activity is a breach that ordinarily warrants eviction, “this presumption may be rebutted by equitable factors that arise in a given case.” In light of the fact that the tenant had resided in his apartment for 24 years, had one marijuana plant in his bathtub for his medical use and had no evidence of attempted distribution, the Court overturned the lower court decision and remanded the case for trial.