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The Appeal Process

 

Do I get a notice if I am denied housing?

Yes. If you have been denied public or subsidized housing, you must get a written notice telling you that you have been denied.64 Read this notice very carefully. It must state the reason that you have been denied housing and tell you the deadline by which you can challenge this denial. You have a right to challenge (appeal) a denial.

This appeal is a request for a meeting that may be called a conference, hearing, or informal hearing or review. Whatever it is called, this meeting will be your chance to have the housing authority's or subsidized landlord's decision reconsidered. To get a hearing, you must make your request in writing to the proper address within the time frame stated in your letter.

How much time do I have to challenge a denial?

A denial letter must tell you the deadline by which you can challenge (appeal) the housing agency or subsidized landlord's decision. The rules about deadlines are different for different types of housing.

Important

Save the envelope the decision came in; the postmark will show when it was actually mailed and it will be assumed that you received it 3 days later.

State public housing

If a housing authority turns you down for state public housing, you have the right to request a private conference within 20 days of the date of the denial letter.65 If you request a private conference, it should be held within 30 days of the housing authority's receipt of your request.

Federal public housing

You must request an informal hearing in writing within a reasonable time,66 which is usually stated in the denial letter. If there is no time specified in the letter, you should give your written request to the housing authority as soon as possible after you get the denial letter. Each housing authority's Admissions and Continued Occupancy Plan should say what the deadline is for filing appeals of denials.

Vouchers

If a housing authority denies your application for a Section 8 voucher, the denial notice must tell you how to get an informal review.67 The notice should include information about the deadline. Each housing authority's Section 8 Administrative Plan should say what the deadline is for filing an appeal of a denial.

If a housing authority denies your application for an MRVP voucher or for an AHVP voucher, your rights to appeal the denial are the same as the rights of state public housing applicants.

Multifamily housing

If you are denied federal multifamily housing, you have 14 days to respond in writing or to request a meeting to discuss the denial.68 If the housing is overseen by MassHousing, you may prefer to respond within 5 days. See How do I challenge the denial of multifamily housing?

If you are denied non-federal multifamily housing overseen by MassHousing, you can request a conference by sending the owner or management company a written letter within 5 working days after you receive the denial letter.69 They will then schedule a conference within 15 days from the date of the notice.

How do I challenge a denial of public housing?

State public housing

You can challenge (appeal) the denial of state public housing by requesting, in writing, an informal conference. In making its decision to accept or deny your original housing application, the housing authority must consider such factors as:

  • The severity of the potentially disqualifying conduct.
  • The amount of time that has passed since the misconduct.
  • The degree of danger to the health, safety, and security of others.
  • The degree of danger, if any, to other tenants, their possessions, or the housing development if the conduct recurred.The disruption and inconvenience which recurrence would cause the housing authority.
  • The likelihood that your behavior in the future would be substantially improved.70

In short, the housing authority must weigh your past bad conduct against any mitigating circumstances. If it decides to accept your application, it must be reasonably certain that you will not engage in any similar bad conduct in the future.

You must make a request for an informal conference within 20 days of receiving a denial letter. At the conference, the housing authority must either tape-record the proceedings or take accurate notes.71 You can also tape-record the hearing and take notes. Within 15 working days after the conference, the housing authoritymust notify you in writing of its decision.72

Before and at the conference, you have the right to examine the documents that the housing authority used in making its decision to deny you.73

If the housing authority still denies your application, you can request a reconsideration of the decision, in writing, within 14 days of the date that the decision from the conference was mailed to you. You should include in your request any new relevant information. The housing authority will not hold a new hearing; it will look only at the new information you presented and review what it decided the first time.74

Instead of filing a request for reconsideration, or if the housing authority still denies you after the reconsideration, you can appeal the denial to the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD). You must mail your written request for review and a hearing to DHCD within 21 days of the date on when the negative decision was mailed to you.75 DHCD will contact you and the housing authority to arrange a date for the hearing, which may be held at the local housing authority for everyone's convenience. This is a new chance for you to present your case all over again, with new witnesses and new letters of support, even if they were not presented at the housing authority level.76

If you still lose at the DHCD level, you have the right to have the DHCD decision reviewed by the Superior Court. You must file your written request for judicial review of the agency decision within 30 days of your receipt of the DHCD decision.77

Federal public housing

You can challenge the denial of federal public housing by requesting, in writing, an informal hearing. See Sample Letter Requesting a Hearing. You must make this request within a reasonable time, which is usually stated in the letter. The housing authority must consider when the unfavorable behavior occurred and how serious it was. It can consider factors which might show that your future behavior will be better. Examples of these factors include evidence of rehabilitation and evidence of your willingness to go to appropriate social service and counseling programs.78

If you lose your informal hearing, you have no more appeals at the housing authority level. The only way for you to challenge the denial after losing your informal hearing is to sue the housing authority in court.79

How do I challenge the denial of a Section 8 voucher?

You can challenge the denial of a Section 8 voucher by requesting, in writing, an informal review. The deadline for requesting such review varies among housing authorities, and should be contained in their Administrative Plans. Your denial letter should also spell out the deadline for appealing. At this informal review, you can tell the housing agency why you disagree with its denial of your application. You will have the opportunity to explain why you think that their information is incorrect or why you think you would be a good tenant in spite of the negative information about your tenant history.80

The housing authority can consider the seriousness of the bad behavior, how deeply your family was involved in the bad behavior, , mitigating circumstances relating to the disability of a family member, and the effects of the denial on other family members who were not involved in the bad behavior.81

If the denial was based on criminal activity, a housing authority can change the denial into an acceptance if you show sufficient evidence that the members of your household are not currently engaged in criminal activity and have not engaged in such activity for a "reasonable period" of time. The family member with the criminal record can give the housing authority a “certification” (sworn statement) that s/he has not engaged in, and is not currently engaging in, criminal activity, and the statement should be supported by letters from such people as a probation officer, a landlord, neighbors, social service agency workers, and by criminal records.82

After the informal review, the housing authority has to send you a notice telling you its final decision. If you lose the informal review, there are no more appeals within the housing authority unless the housing authority's Section 8 Administrative Plan specifically provides for another hearing. If you still want to try to get Section 8, you would have to bring a cpourt case against the housing authority. You would have to be able to convince a judge that the housing authority made a legal mistake in denying you.

How do I challenge the denial of multifamily housing?

Federal multifamily housing

If you have been denied federally funded multifamily housing, you have 14 days to respond in writing or to verbally request a meeting to discuss the rejection. Your request should be in writing.

If you meet with MassHousing about your denial, see the section on state multifamily housing. If you meet with the owner about your denial, or if you submit a written statement, the meeting or review of your statement must be conducted by a member of the owner’s staff who did not make or approve the decision to reject you. The property owner must consider factors such as:

  • How involved the applicant was in the bad behavior,
  • How serious the offense was,
  • Whether the person has been rehabilitated,
  • What effect accepting or rejecting a family for housing will have on the innocent household members, and
  • Whether the person has participated in social service programs.83

If you appeal the rejection, the owner must give you a written final decision within 5 days of your written statement or meeting.84 If you lose at this level, there is no further review by the owner. The law is very unclear about what kind of court review of the decision you might be entitled to.

State multifamily subsidized housing

If an owner or manager of multifamily subsidized housing funded through MassHousing (formerly MHFA) denies your application, the owner must send you a written notice which says why you were denied.85 You can request a conference by sending the owner or management company a written letter within 5 working days after you receive the denial letter.86 They will then schedule a conference within 15 days from the date of the notice. You will get a letter telling you when and where to appear for the conference.

A MassHousing conference officer will conduct the conference. The management company will explain why they denied your application and present whatever evidence they have. They can talk only about the reasons they included in the denial letter. You should present any evidence that you have and explain why you think your application should not be denied.

If the MassHousing conference officer decides that the owner had the right to deny your application, you will get a written decision, which you can appeal  in writing within 5 working days to the Senior Management Officer at MassHousing. You will then get a written decision about this further review. There is no further administrative review (that is, review within MassHousing) of the decision. If you still want to challenge it, you will have to sue in court.

Note

Remember that if you have a disability and you think you were denied housing because of your disability, you should request a reasonable accommodation in addition to requesting a review of the denial. The housing provider should respond to your reasonable accommodation request. See Reasonable Accommodations for more information about this.

Whom do I meet with to challenge a denial?

The purpose of challenging a denial is to have someone reconsider the housing authority's or subsidized landlord's decision. This is your opportunity to address various concerns raised in the denial letter, show them that certain information was not correct, provide them with documentation that is needed, and explain why you think you would be a good tenant, despite any negative information that may have come up during the application process. Whom you will meet with during your hearing varies depending on what type of housing you have been denied.

Public housing

If you have applied to state or federal public housing, the conference is run by the housing authority's executive director or someone the director appoints.87

Vouchers

If you have applied for a Section 8 voucher, the informal review is a meeting with someone at the housing agency where you applied. That person cannot be the person who made or approved the decision to deny you housing or someone who works for that person.88 In housing agencies with very small staffs, this rule can sometimes mean that a person must be brought in from the outside to conduct the informal review.

If you have been denied an MRVP voucher or an AHVP voucher, the public housing rules apply (see above).

Multifamily housing

If you have applied for state or federal multifamily housing that is overseen by MassHousing and have requested a meeting within 5 days of receiving the denial, a MassHousing g conference officer will conduct the conference. If you have applied for federal housing and have requested a hearing within 14 days, the owner will conduct the conference.

If you have applied for multifamily housing that is not overseen by MassHousing, the meeting or review of your request to reconsider a denial of housing must be conducted by a member of the owner's staff who did not make the decision to reject you. You can choose either to present your case at a hearing or to have the owner review written materials that you have sent in.

Endnotes

64 State: Public housing and Alternative Housing Voucher Program: 760 C.M.R. § 5.05(3). Federal public housing: 24 C.F.R. § 960.208; Section 8: 24 C.F.R. § 982.554(a).

65 760 C.M.R. § 5.13(1)(b).

66 24 C.F.R. § 960.208(a).

67 24 C.F.R. § 982.554(a).

68 HUD Multifamily Occupancy Handbook 4350.3 REV-1, CHG-3 (June 2009), Chapter 4; MHFA Model Tenant Selection Plan, REV: 9/09, Part D, found at MassHousing.

69 MHFA Model Tenant Selection Plan, REV 9/09, Part D, found at MassHousing.

70 760 C.M.R. § 5.08(2).

71 760 C.M.R. § 5.13(1)(g).

72 760 C.M.R. § 5.13(2).

73 760 C.M.R. § 5.13(1)(e).

74 760 C.M.R. § 5.13(3).

75 760 C.M.R. § 5.13(4); Madera v. Sec'y of EOCD, 418 Mass. 452 (1994).

76 See Madera v. Sec'y of EOCD, 418 Mass. 452 (1994), in which the Supreme Judicial Court held that applicants for state-funded public housing have a constitutionally protected property interest in their eligibility for such housing and therefore are entitled to challenge the denial of their applications in adjudicatory hearings before the Executive Office of Communities and Development (now the Department of Housing and Community Development).

77 G.L. c. 30A, § 14.

78 24 C.F.R. § 960.203(d).

79 Judicial review of a denial of federal housing can be brought under G.L. c. 249, §4, by means of certiorari, which has a 60-day statute of limitations, or by an action for civil rights violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which has a three-year statute of limitations.If the action were by DHCD for the Section 8 program, theoretically this may be under G.L. c. 30A, and a 30-day statute of limitations applies.  § 1983 can be used to challenge a decision on fair housing or due process grounds, and also sometimes on the grounds that the decision is contrary to applicable federal law. This is a field of law that is very complicated. The state certiorari statute is necessary, especially if your challenge focuses on the failure of the housing program to comply with agency procedures and policies. It is unclear whether you can use § 1983 to make a challenge that a decision lacks substantial evidence, or that the officer did not exercise discretion properly.  The Massachusetts Superior Court has a standing order on administrative challenges under G.L. c. 249, § 4, which basically limits any such review to the record developed at the agency. You may have to request a transcript of the hearing or try to create your own record of what took place depending on the claim.   

80 24 C.F.R. § 982.554(b)(2).

81 24 C.F.R. § 982.552(c)(2)(i).

82 24 C.F.R. § 982.553(a)(2)(ii)(C)(1).

83Federal multifamily housing: 24 C.F.R. § 5.852(a) and (c); Section 8 moderate rehabilitation program: 24 C.F.R. § 882.518(b)(3); HUD Multifamily Occupancy Handbook 4350.3 REV-1, CHG-3 (June 2009), Chapter 2.

84 HUD Multifamily Occupancy Handbook REV-1, CHG-3 (June 2009, see generally Chapter 2.

85 MHFA Model Tenant Selection Plan, REV 9/09, Part D, found at MassHousing.

86 Id.

87 Federal housing: informal hearing required by 24 C.F.R. § 960.208; State housing: informal conference required by 760 C.M.R. § 5.13(1)(f).

88 Id.


Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Last updated December 2009


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