PHAs Are Not Immune From Suit For Negligent Maintenance

Kegler Brown Housing Newsletter

In some instances, a public agency is immune from liability. Generally, a public agency is not liable for damages where the injury arises from a "governmental" or "proprietary" function.  Section 2744.02, Ohio Revised Code.

In this case, children started a fire in a PHA-owned unit. Two of the children died in the fire. The mother filed suit and alleged that the PHA was negligent because it had removed the only working smoke detector from the apartment.

The PHA argued that it was immune from suit because providing low-income housing is a "proprietary or governmental function." The appellate court agreed, holding that ownership and operation of a public housing facility is a "proprietary function." However, the court then proceeded to analyze the exceptions to immunity afforded to public bodies, one of which is where liability is imposed on the agency by law. The court ruled that a PHA is subject to the Ohio Landlord-Tenant law, which in turn requires a landlord to comply with all housing, building, health and safety codes. Section 5321.04, Revised Code. One such requirement is that smoke detectors be provided in private areas. Since the PHA had a statutory duty to provide smoke detectors, no immunity from suit existed. Moore v. Lorain Metropolitan Housing Authority, 2007-Ohio-5111 (Lor. Co. 2007).