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Preparing for a Grievance Hearing

  1. How do I prepare for a public housing grievance hearing?
  2. Can I review housing authority documents before a public housing grievance hearing?

How do I prepare for a public housing grievance hearing?

The more prepared you are for the grievance hearing, the more respect the hearing panel will have for you and your case. Here are some tips:

  • Very often hearing officers are not knowledgeable about specific laws, regulations, and what is in the lease. For this reason it is very important to identify the violation that is the issue, whether it is a violation of your lease, a regulation, or law. Have a copy of the rule, policy, or your lease so you can know and read the exact words and so hearing officers may take into consideration relevant laws, regulations, or housing authority policies and rules when making a decision.
  • Be factual, not emotional, during your presentation. To help you do this, list on paper the problem or problems and how you want the housing authority to solve them.
  • Play "devil's advocate." List all the arguments you can think of that the housing authority may make to prove its case and prepare your response to each one. Do not ignore the housing authority's case against you.
  • Figure out what documents you need to prove that the problems in your case do or do not exist. This can include letters, notes from phone calls, pictures, or any other documents that are important. Get these documents before the hearing.
  • Make an extra copy of each document that you want to give the hearing officer or hearing panel. Highlight the important sections. This makes it easier for the officer or panel to read and helps keep the issues clearer in everyone's mind. Remember to keep copies of everything for yourself.
  • Organize all of these documents in a folder or three-ring binder so that when you go to the hearing you will be well prepared and not fumbling for papers.
  • As you prepare, carry a small notebook with you or keep one near your telephone to document phone calls or meetings that are important to support your position. Note the date, time, people involved, and the gist of the discussion. This kind of documentation is helpful.
  • Find out if anyone has personal knowledge about the problem, and, if so, whether they are willing to tell the hearing officer what they know.

If people agree to testify, prepare them for the hearing. Tell them what you will be asking them and think about what the housing authority may ask them and go over this with them. If any of your witnesses live in public housing, they may be scared to testify. Remind them that they cannot be retaliated against or evicted for testifying.

Can I review housing authority documents before a public housing grievance hearing?

Yes. The housing authority must provide you with an opportunity, prior to and during the hearing, to look at all documents, records, and regulations that the housing authority has that may be relevant to your grievance. You also have the right to make one copy of these documents, if you make this request in a timely manner. Copying is done at your expense, although the housing authority can agree not to charge you.

Make the request to review documents enough in advance of the hearing so that you have time to prepare for the hearing. It is also a good idea to make this request in writing. Date this letter and keep a copy for your files. This will protect you against the housing authority saying that you never asked to see documents. If a housing authority does not provide you will access to documents until the last minute, this may be "good cause" to request that the hearing be postponed.

Federal public housing

Federal public housing regulations state that if the housing authority refuses to give you access to documents prior to the hearing, those documents may not be used against you. For example, if housing authority staff refuse to give you copies of complaints that they have received about you, the housing authority cannot use these documents at the grievance hearing or show them to the hearing panel or officer. If the housing authority tries to use these documents, you should object and ask that the documents be excluded as evidence.19

State public housing

While state public housing regulations are not as clear as federal regulations, you can argue that similar protections should apply as a matter of due process, and that if a housing authority refuses to show you documents, it cannot use them at the grievance hearing.20

1924 C.F.R. § 966.56(b)(1). In addition, in federal public housing eviction cases, if the housing authority does not allow the tenant the opportunity to examine relevant documents before a grievance or court hearing, the eviction must be dismissed. See 42 U.S.C. § 1437d(l)(7); 24 C.F.R. § 966.4(m) .
20760 C.M.R.§ 6.08(4)(d).

Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Last updated November 28, 2005

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