PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) - NEWS CENTER originally covered the story of two Portland landlords who were upset with the Portland Housing Authority on Wednesday, August 23rd. The landlords, Paul and Cyndi Taylor, alleged that their tenant of 11 years severely destroyed their property, but faced no repercussions.
The landlords were upset that the tenant was able to move on to another housing district in another Maine city, to receive housing assistance and a voucher, and to face no consequences for the destruction to their property. "The frustration is that she got to move on to another landlord and do the same thing," said Paul Taylor.
This damage included stained ceiling tiles, cigarette burns on the wood floors, animal urine all over the kitchen, and doors ripped off their hinges. The tenant called NEWS CENTER and spoke with Kristina Rex anonymously, saying that she admits to the animal urine from multiple animals, and the cigarette burns. She says there is a middle ground to this story - and that she and the landlord had a strained relationship.
Normally, landlord-tenant drama would not be newsworthy. But in this case, the tenant was on Section 8 housing, Portland's subsidized housing program - funded by taxpayer dollars.
On August 23rd, the story was left as follows: that the Taylors would get in touch with Portland Housing Authority to file an official complaint, and that PHA would thoroughly review their case.
However - on Wednesday, August 30, that changed. NEWS CENTER's Kristina Rex received an anonymous letter from someone claiming to work at the Portland Housing Authority - suggesting that a follow-up was necessary.
The letter, sent in a Portland Housing Authority envelope, suggested that the landlords - the Taylors - may be in the right. The alleged PHA employee wrote, "I cannot give you my name because the Executive Director, Mark Adelson, would fire me if he ever found out I spoke with the media."
The letter continues, saying that the landlords were misled by PHA. "You and that landlord were told that the damages done by the Section 8 participant were the responsibility of the landlord," it says. "Well, that Section 8 voucher includes wording that specifies that the voucher holder must adhere to the lease they signed and not damage the unit."
The letter writer attached a copy of the voucher form. Pictures are below.
Given the cigarette burns, which are a violation of a "no smoking" policy in the lease, and the animal urine from multiple animals, which is a violation of the "no more than one cat" rule, it is clear that the tenant must have violated these clauses in the voucher agreement.
The anonymous letter writer also calls out Janice Bosse, the Director of Housing Services. The writer writes, "It's an office joke that she gives some of the participants way too many chances. Her Housing Officers feel so bad handing off a voucher-holder to yet another unsuspecting landlord, knowing this person was a very bad tenant in the past." That tenant has now moved on to another city and is on a voucher through a different housing office.
NEWS CENTER's Kristina Rex spoke in a recorded conversation with Executive Director Mark Adelson on Wednesday, August 30. Below are snippets of the conversation.
REX: Based on what I have witnessed, this tenant has clearly violated this [voucher agreement]. So why was their voucher not removed?
ADELSON: Well, it wasn't brought to our attention. We expect the landlord to bring that to our attention.
REX: The landlord claims they did bring it to your attention after the tenant moved out.
ADELSON: Right, and we expect that to take place while the tenant is in tenancy, so this makes it a very different situation...We just expect the landlords to do thorough examinations of their apartments on a periodic basis and to know their tenants.
The Taylors also threatened to evict the tenant multiple times during her stay. They sent her several letters of lease violations, and provided copies to NEWS CENTER. One of those letter was even signed by a Portland Housing Authority employee, showing that they did in fact know of lease violations and issues during this tenant's stay.
Rex then asked Adelson about an end-of-lease inspection that was completed by the Portland Housing Authority. A copy is below.
REX: And in [the inspection report], it identified those cigarette burns among several other pieces of damage, but that tenant still passed inspection. Why is that?
ADELSON: Well cigarette burns, while they might sound dangerous...we expect the landlord to enforce the no smoking [rule]...Cigarette burns in their own don't disqualify or don't mean that [the apartment] won't pass our housing quality standards, which is the measure we use that is qualified by HUD.
REX: Would you agree that those are fairly low housing standards?
ADELSON: Those are the standards that we have. We can't use any other standards. And they do, they focus on very basic health and safety matters in the home.
REX: I find it hard to believe that you've never had a situation where a landlord discovers damage after a tenant leaves.
ADELSON: Well they do, but landlords - they have security deposits. They have other legal means like small claims court. And landlords in this business, they know what their options are at this point. So it's very rare, I won't say never, but it's very rare that a landlord comes back to us.
REX: Hypothetically, if damage like this had been discovered while the tenant was still living there and she had been evicted, would she have lost her voucher?
ADELSON: There's a chance she would've but it's not guaranteed.
REX: Doors ripped off the hinges, animal pee all over the apartment, cigarette burns - that still would not necessarily qualify?
ADELSON: It depends on what the landlord knew and what he was informed of while they were in tenancy.
NEWS CENTER did not alert Adelson to the anonymous letter, but did ask him about some of the complaints listen, to which he responded, "Housing is a very important concern. Our landlords are a big concern, but the safety of our residents and housing is our highest priority, So I can't really comment on that because I haven't heard that."
Adelson said that the Taylors will receive no financial compensation from PHA under any circumstances. He did say that once he receives a written complaint from Paul Taylor about the condition of the apartment, that he will thoroughly review it.
However, Paul Taylor has little hope for any kind of review. He says that there was no way for him to know about the cigarette burns and other pieces of damage in his annual inspections during this tenant's stay. "A lot of things are bubble-gummed up before I get there," he said. "The [tenant] knows their inspection is coming. They fix a lot of things."
NEWS CENTER emailed both Janice Bosse and Mark Adelson of the PHA, requesting specific numbers of applicants, accepted applicants, and rejected applicants each year to Section 8 housing. Adelson responded, "The number of applicants determined to be ineligible is not a number I have readily available. I can make data available that will give you an accurate and complete picture of the program if you have time in the near future."
NEWS CENTER wants to make it clear that there is no intention of shaming any particular tenant, or anyone on a subsidized housing program. For that reason, we kept the tenant's name anonymous. The question that remains is: Is there justice for landlords who enter the program, too?
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