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Beckman v. Montgomery County Housing Opportunities Commission

United States District Court, D. Maryland

October 8, 2019

THOMAS J. BECKMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
MONTGOMERY COUNTY HOUSING OPPORTUNITIES COMMISSION, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Timothy J. Sullivan United States Magistrate Judge

         By the stipulation of the parties, the Court conducted a one-day bench trial on September 23, 2019.

         Pursuant to Rule 52 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Court must make specific findings of fact and state conclusions of law separately in any action tried without a jury. In doing so, the Court must appraise the testimony and demeanor of the witnesses, assess and evaluate the credibility of the witnesses, weigh the evidence, and choose among conflicting inferences and conclusions. In doing so, and to comply with the Rule, the Court “need only make brief, definite, pertinent findings and conclusions upon the contested matters, as there is no need for overelaboration of detail or particularization of facts.” Wooten v. Lightburn, 579 F.Supp.2d 769, 772 (W.D. Va. 2008). Rule 52 does not require the court to make findings on all facts presented or to make detailed evidentiary findings; if the findings are sufficient to support the ultimate conclusion of the court they are sufficient. Darter v. Greenville Comm. Hotel Corp., 301 F.2d 70, 75 (4th Cir. 1962).

         Based on an evaluation of all of the evidence in the record, including the exhibits admitted by the plaintiff and the defendant, the testimony of the witnesses, the inferences to be drawn from the evidence, and the arguments of the parties, I make the following findings of fact and conclusions of law:

         I. FINDINGS OF FACT

         1. At all times relevant to this case, Plaintiff Thomas Beckman (“Mr. Beckman”) was the owner of a property rented to a family (the “family”) that received a rental subsidy through the family's participation in Montgomery County's Housing Choice Voucher Program.

         2. Plaintiff and Defendant Montgomery County Housing Opportunities Commission (the “HOC”) entered into a contract titled “Housing Assistance Payment Contract.” I will refer to this as the “HAP Contract.” The signed version of the contract has been lost by both parties, but the parties stipulated that they were bound by the contract and that the terms of the contract are standard. A copy of the HAP Contract is filed at ECF No. 72-3 and was introduced as Joint Exhibit 1.

         3. Initially, Mr. Beckman charged the family monthly rent in the amount of $2, 571. In the second year of the family's tenancy, Mr. Beckman charged monthly rent in the amount of $2, 700, which the HOC determined to be a reasonable rent amount.

         4. The HOC made annual adjustments to the utility allowance for properties across the region. The utility allowances used by the HOC in this case were correct.

         5. The relevant provisions of the HAP Contract provide that the HOC will determine the amount of the family's monthly housing assistance payment “in accordance with HUD requirements for a tenancy under the voucher program” and that Defendant will notify the family tenant and the owner of any changes in the amount of the housing assistance payment. I will refer to the housing assistance payment as the “subsidy.” The acronym “HUD” refers to the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development.

         6. The HOC's calculation of the subsidy was at all relevant times governed by Section 982 of Title 24 of the Code of Federal Regulations. In addition, the HOC was required to comply with its own Administrative Plan. Chapters 6 and 7 of the HOC's Administrative Plan (“Administrative Plan”) specifically address the HOC's calculation of a tenant family's subsidy.

         7. The HOC's Administrative Plan is the governing document that provides how the HOC will administer the Housing Choice Voucher Program, see 24 C.F.R. § 982.1(a)(1), in accordance with HUD requirements. The Administrative Plan has been approved by the HOC's Board of Commissioners and by HUD. A central purpose of the Administrative Plan is to state how the HOC will administer the discretionary program requirements of the Housing Choice Voucher Program. The Administrative Plan was created to comply with the requirements listed in 24 C.F.R. § 982.54.

         8. To determine the appropriate subsidy for the family, the HOC was required to make several calculations.

         9. To begin, the HOC calculated the “gross rent” as the sum of the contract rent ($2, 700 at the times relevant to Mr. Beckman's breach of contract claim) and the standard utility allowance ($435 at all relevant times).

         10. The HOC also calculated the “gross family income.” To calculate gross family income, the HOC added together all income received on behalf of the family other than the income that is excluded under 24 C.F.R. § 5.609. Gross family income is calculated on an annual basis.

         11. The Administrative Plan (Chapter 6, Section D) permits the HOC to estimate annual income by averaging known sources of income that vary to compute an annual income or by annualizing current income. In this case, the HOC annualized the family members' current income at the time that various examinations were conducted to come up with an anticipated annual income.

         12. Chapter 7 of the Administrative Plan sets forth the procedures that the HOC follows to verify information related to the calculation of the subsidy, including family income, allowable deductions, and changes in family composition.

         13. To verify information about a family's income, the HOC uses the five methods acceptable to HUD, in the following order of preference:

- Upfront Income Verification (“UIV”) through HUD's Enterprise Income Verification system
- Third-Party Written Verification
- Third-Party Oral Verification
- Review of Documents
- Certification/Self-Declaration

         14. UIV data is used to validate income reported by a family participating in the Housing Choice Voucher program and to supplement documents provided to the HOC. If UIV data is substantially different from the client reported income, the HOC next requests written third-party verification from the discrepant income source.

         15. When written third-party verification is delayed or not possible, the HOC obtains oral third-party verification. When the HOC obtains oral third-party verification, an employee of the HOC completes a certification form that states a summary of the facts provided by the third party.

         16. When oral third-party verification is unavailable, the HOC uses documents provided by the family for verification. Examples of documents that might be provided to the HOC by the family include printed wage stubs, computer print-outs from the employer, and signed letters (provided that the information is confirmed by phone). Documents provided by the family are to be dated within the last 120 days of the reexamination. Pay stubs are to be current and consecutive.

         17. When verification cannot be made by third-party verification or review of documents, families are required to complete a self-certification.

         18. When the HOC verifies income, there are several acceptable methods of verification. In order of preference, they are: employment verification form provided by the employer, four current consecutive pay stubs or earning statements, W-2 forms plus income tax return forms, and self-certification or ...


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