Public housing tenants and the Hopewell Redevelopment and Housing Authority (HRHA) have reached a proposed settlement valued at nearly $300,000 in a federal class-action lawsuit challenging HRHA’s failure to properly set and implement tenant utility allowances. Under the terms of the proposed agreement, $220,000 will be distributed among current and former Hopewell public housing tenants who were subjected to HRHA’s utility surcharges from June 1, 2014, through September 30, 2018. Approximately $95,000 was previously saved by tenants through the waiver of gas and electric utility charges during the pendency of the lawsuit. The new gas and electric utility allowances negotiated as part of this settlement are expected to further reduce charges to tenants by approximately $144,000 over just the first three years.
The class-action lawsuit, filed in April 2019, alleges that HRHA’s failure to properly set, implement, and charge electric and gas utility allowances resulted in unlawful excessive charges to current and former public housing tenants. Federal law requires that public housing tenants not be charged more than 30% of their income for rent and utilities. While HRHA denies any wrongdoing, the parties have agreed to the proposed settlement in order to avoid the uncertainty and expense associated with continued litigation and believe that the proposed settlement agreement is in the best interest of HRHA and all impacted public housing tenants.
The proposed settlement must be approved by Federal District Court Judge Hannah M. Lauck before it is final. In addition to monetary relief, under the terms of the proposed agreement, HRHA also agreed to:
- Set and implement new, higher utility allowances that will stay in place for at least three years, and which became effective January 1, 2019.
- Create new notices, policies, and procedures for elderly and disabled tenants needing additional electric usage due to their conditions.
- Change its billing statements to give tenants more information about their utility surcharges.
- Change its lease so that late fees and other non-rent charges are not treated as rent.
- Change its lease so that it states whether a tenant has submetered utilities and list each tenant’s utility allowance.
- Ensure HRHA staff is trained regarding utility billing procedures, tenant requests for relief from utility billing, and the grievance procedure for tenants to contest charges.
- Suspend all charges for gas consumption between October 1, 2016 and January 1, 2019.
- Suspend all charges for electricity consumption between October 1, 2018 usage and January
Below you can find the complaint, the settlement agreement, and the court order granting preliminary approval of the settlement and conditional class certification, along with a sample class notice to be sent by HRHA to class members.
Class members who wish to object to the settlement must file an objection with the Court by January 25, 2021 (further details can be found in the Class Notice).
Class members who wish to opt-out must do so by sending a letter to the Court clearly stating they want to opt out by February 1, 2021 (further details can be found in the Class Notice).
The Final Approval hearing will be on March 17, 2021, at 11:00 AM.
For more information, please contact:
Sylvia Cosby Jones
626 East Broad Street, Suite 200
Richmond, VA 23219