Filing a Grievance

Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Last updated 28 November, 2006
  1. What are the steps of a grievance process in state public housing?
  2. What are the steps of a grievance process in federal public housing?
  3. How do I file a public housing grievance?
  4. Are there deadlines for filing a public housing grievance?
  5. How soon does the housing authority have to respond to my public housing grievance?
  6. What is an informal settlement conference in public housing ?

What are the steps of a grievance process in state public housing?

While, in general,
the steps of a grievance process for state and federalpublic housing
are similar, there are some differences that are important to know. The
way the grievance process works also depends on whether the housing
authority is taking action against you, or whether you are filing a
grievance against the housing authority.

Important:

To
find out exactly what the steps are for your grievance procedure,
review your housing authority's grievance procedure and your lease.

If you have filed
a request for a grievance hearing or you are appealing a grievance
decision, a housing authority may not take any other action against you
until a final decision has been reached. This means that the housing
authority cannot bring you to court to evict you or take other action
on the subject of the grievance (such as a transfer) until the
grievance process is over.1

Housing authority is taking action against you

  1. Housing authority sends tenant notice about action it plans to take and right to grievance hearing
  2. Tenant must file a written grievance or loses right to a hearing
  3. Informal conference held
  4. Tenant is encouraged, but not required, to attend informal conference
  5. If not resolved, housing authority notifies tenant about grievance hearing date
  6. Tenant entitled to review housing authority documents
  7. Grievance hearing held
  8. Decision issued
  9. Tenant or housing authority may appeal decision to Housing Authority Board
  10. If Housing Authority Board significantly changes decision, tenant may appeal to state housing agency (DHCD)

You are taking action against housing authority

  1. Tenant has a problem with housing authority
  2. Tenant must file a written grievance or loses right to a hearing
  3. Informal conference held
  4. Tenant is encouraged, but not required, to attend informal conference
  5. If not resolved, housing authority notifies tenant about grievance hearing date
  6. Tenant entitled to review housing authority documents
  7. Grievance hearing held
  8. Decision issued
  9. Tenant or housing authority may appeal decision to Housing Authority Board
  10. If Housing Authority Board significantly changes decision, tenant may appeal to state housing agency (DHCD)

In some cases, a
housing authority may have a different procedure. For example, some
housing authorities automatically schedule private conferences in all
eviction cases, and treat them as informal settlement conferences.
Where this is the case, the tenant would not need to make a formal
request for a settlement conference.

What are the steps of a grievance process in federal public housing?

While, in general,
the steps of a grievance process for state and federal public housing
are similar, there are some differences that are important to know. The
way the grievance process works also depends on whether the housing
authority is taking action against you, or whether you are filing a
grievance against the housing authority.

Important:

To
find out exactly what the steps are for your grievance procedure,
review your housing authority's grievance procedure and your lease.

If you have filed
a request for a grievance hearing or you are appealing a grievance
decision, a housing authority may not take any other action against you
until a final decision has been reached. This means that the housing
authority cannot bring you to court to evict you or take other action
on the subject of the grievance (such as a transfer) until the
grievance process is over.2

Housing authority is taking action against you

  1. Housing authority sends tenant notice about action it plans to take and right to grievance hearing
  2. Tenant must file a written grievance or loses right to a hearing
  3. Informal conference held
  4. Tenant required to attend informal conference, except in certain types of evictions
  5. If not resolved,
    tenant must file a written grievance request (if hasn't already) to
    have a hearing; housing authority then notifies tenant about hearing
    date
  6. Tenant entitled to review housing authority documents
  7. Grievance hearing held
  8. Decision issued
  9. Tenant or housing authority may be able to request that a decision be set aside
  10. Tenant cannot appeal decision to state or federal housing agency

You are taking action against housing authority

  1. Tenant has a problem with housing authority
  2. Tenant can request a grievance hearing verbally or in writing (Best to do in writing)
  3. Informal conference held
  4. Tenant required to attend informal conference
  5. If not resolved,
    tenant must file a written grievance request to have a hearing; housing
    authority then notifies tenant about hearing date
  6. Tenant entitled to review housing authority documents
  7. Grievance hearing held
  8. Decision issued
  9. Tenant or housing authority may be able to request that a decision be set aside
  10. Tenant cannot appeal decision to state or federal housing agency

In some cases, a
housing authority may have a different procedure than is in these
charts. For example, some housing authorities automatically schedule
private conferences in all eviction cases, and treat them as informal
settlement conferences. Where this is the case, the tenant would not
need to make a formal request for a settlement conference.

How do I file a public housing grievance?

If you have
received a notice that the housing authority is taking some action
against you, your request for a grievance must be in writing. This is
true for both state and federal public housing. In your grievance it is
important to state why you disagree with the action proposed by the
housing authority and how you want to solve the problem.

If you want to
file a grievance against the housing authority and you live in state
public housing, you must put this in writing. In federal public
housing, although you may verbally ask for a grievance hearing, it is
best to put this grievance in writing.3 The reason it is
better to put your grievance in writing is that a housing authority may
deny that you ever filed a grievance. In your grievance it is important
that you state what the problem is and how you want the housing
authority to solve it.

Most housing
authorities will have a standard grievance form that you can use to
request a grievance hearing. If yours doesn't have one, you can write
your own letter.

It is a good idea
to hand deliver your grievance to either the local management office or
the housing authority's main office. Ask the staff person who accepts
it to make a copy for you and sign and date your copy. Then you will
have a record that the grievance was received and the date it was
received. If you cannot hand deliver your grievance, you can send it by
mail.

Important:

Keep
copies of everything you send or receive from the housing authority. A
"paper trail" between you and the housing authority can by itself lead
to a negotiated a solution. Plus, you never know when you are going to
need copies of documents you have sent or received.

Are there deadlines for filing a public housing grievance?

In general, yes. To figure out deadlines for filing a grievance check:

  • your housing authority's grievance procedure,
  • any notices you receive from the housing authority, and
  • your lease.

Once you figure
out what the deadline is, you should hand deliver or mail the request
for a grievance to the housing authority's main office by that date
(unless the housing authority says you can deliver it to your local
management office).

State public housing

In state public
housing, if there is no provision in your lease or the housing
authority's grievance procedure about deadlines for filing a grievance,
state regulations establish the following time frames within which you
should request a grievance hearing:

  • Rent: If you're disputing how your rent was set, file a grievance within 14 days of receiving the housing authority's rent notice.4
  • Termination of lease: If you're disputing termination of your lease, file a grievance within 7 days after receiving the notice of lease termination.5
  • Other matters: If the grievance is about some other matter, file a grievance no more than 14 days after you first became aware (or should have become aware) of the matter.

The housing
authority can permit additional time for the filing of a grievance if
there is a good reason that it was filed late and the late filing will
not cause prejudice or harm to the housing authority.6 You
should explain in the grievance why it was late - for example, you did
not get notice from the housing authority right away or you were
involved in a family emergency.

Federal public housing

There are no
specific time frames set under federal rules, other than that a
grievance must be filed within a reasonable time after you receive a
summary of the informal settlement conference.7 To figure
out what deadlines your housing authority may have for filing a
grievance, look at your housing authority's grievance procedure, your
lease, or any notice you receive from the housing authority. If your
grievance is late, you can ask for additional time if there was a good
reason why it was filed late.

If the grievance
is called an expedited grievance, which is a faster process, a
grievance must be filed by the time specified under your housing
authority's expedited grievance procedure.

How soon does the housing authority have to respond to my public housing grievance?

State public housing

After a grievance
has been filed, a housing authority must "promptly" schedule an
informal settlement conference. The regulations do not define what
"promptly" means.8 Check your grievance procedure to see
whether it states how quickly the housing authority must schedule an
informal settlement conference.

If there is no
resolution of the matter at an informal settlement conference, a
grievance hearing must be scheduled as soon as "reasonably convenient"
following the housing authority's receipt of your grievance. Again, the
regulations do not define what "reasonably convenient" means.9

If, however, the
grievance involves determining whether there is good cause to end or
terminate your lease, the housing authority must schedule a grievance
hearing within 14 days (or as soon as reasonably practical) after the
housing authority receives your request for a grievance.10

If the housing
authority is not responding to your request for a grievance in a prompt
manner, you may need to take further steps such as sending your
original grievance a second time, with a request that the matter be
addressed promptly.

Federal public housing

Under the federal
regulations, there is no specific time frame within which a housing
authority must schedule an informal settlement conference. Once the
conference happens, a summary of it must be prepared within a
"reasonable time."11

If there is no resolution of the matter at an informal settlement conference, a grievance hearing must be "promptly" scheduled.12 The regulations do not define what "promptly" means.

A housing
authority may also establish a quick or expedited grievance procedure
for any grievance concerning a termination of your tenancy.13
Again, there is no specific timeframe in the federal regulations. Check
your lease to see if it states any timeframes for the housing authority
to respond to your grievance.

What is an informal settlement conference in public housing?

In both state and
federal public housing, before you have a grievance hearing, the
housing authority should give you an opportunity to discuss the
grievance informally in an attempt to settle it without the need for a
hearing. This is referred to as an informal settlement conference.

The housing
authority should give you reasonable advance notice of a time and place
for the informal conference, unless the housing authority proposes to
hold the informal settlement conference when you deliver the grievance
and you agree to that. If you would like support or someone with you
during your informal conference, you have a right to have someone with
you. Don't let a housing authority discourage you from bringing someone
if you want.

Important:

Be careful about
what you say at the informal settlement conference. The housing
authority may try to use the informal conference to get information
that it can use against you. You do not have to volunteer any
information that you do not want to disclose.

If you work out a
solution to your satisfaction at an informal conference, you and
housing authority staff should put this agreement in writing and sign
it. Many grievances are resolved this way, with no need for a grievance
hearing. However, if you are not satisfied with the solution the
housing authority is proposing, you may continue to bring your
grievance before an impartial hearing officer or hearing panel.

State public housing

In state public
housing, the informal conference happens after you file your grievance
and prior to your hearing. You are encouraged, but not required, to
attend the informal settlement conference.14 You may choose to also be represented by a lawyer or non-lawyer.15
If you can't work things out at the informal settlement conference or
you do not go to your informal settlement conference, the grievance
hearing will automatically be held, without any requirement that you
take further steps.16

Federal public housing

In federal public
housing, you must go through an informal settlement conference- unless
the housing authority's action concerns an eviction involving
drug-related activity on or near the premises or criminal activity that
threatens the health, safety or peaceful enjoyment of the housing
authority staff or other tenants.17 For such cases, an
informal settlement conference is usually not provided, and the housing
authority can proceed either directly to the grievance hearing (which
is called an expedited hearing) or to an eviction case in court.18
But check your lease and grievance procedures, because some housing
authorities offer what is called a private conference in all eviction
cases prior to serving a notice to quit. This private conference serves
the same purpose as an informal conference.

If you go through
an informal conference, the housing authority must prepare a written
summary of the conference. It must do so within a reasonable time after
the conference and give you a copy. This summary must state the
proposed solution, the reasons for it, and the steps you need to take
to have a grievance hearing if you are not satisfied with the outcome
of the informal conference. If you want a grievance hearing after an
informal conference, you will need to file a written request for a
grievance hearing. If you do not file a formal request for a grievance,
you may lose your right to a grievance hearing.

1760 C.M.R. § 6.06(8)(b), and 24 C.F.R. § 966.4(e)(8)(ii)(B), (l)(3)(iv); see also Cambridge Housing Authority v. Wedge, 2000 Mass. App. Div. 235 (eviction dismissed where grievance procedure not concluded at time housing authority filed action).

2760 C.M.R. § 6.06(8)(b), and 24 C.F.R. § 966.4(e)(8)(ii)(B), (l)(3)(iv); see also Cambridge Housing Authority v. Wedge, 2000 Mass. App. Div. 235 (eviction dismissed where grievance procedure not concluded at time housing authority filed action).

324 C.F.R. § 966.54.

4760 C.M.R. § 6.04(7).

5760 C.M.R. §§ 6.06(8)(a), 6.08(4)(a).

6760 C.M.R. § 6.08(4)(a).

724 C.F.R. § 966.55(a) .

8760 C.M.R. § 6.08(4)(b).

9760 C.M.R. § 6.08(4)(c).

10760 C.M.R. § 6.08(4)(c).

1124 C.F.R. § 966.54.

1224 C.F.R. § 966.55(f) . If a housing authority has a pattern of not acting on grievances in a timely manner, this could be challenged in court. See Samuels v. District of Columbia Housing Authority,
669 F. Supp. 1133 (D.D.C. 1987) where the court found that the housing
authority had failed to develop a grievance procedure under which
tenant complaints would be heard and processed in a timely fashion.

1324 C.F.R. § 966.55(g) .

14 760 C.M.R. § 6.08(4)(b).

15See Public Housing Notice 2000-03, Part A, issued by DHCD to all local housing authorities on July 3, 2000.

16760 C.M.R. § 6.08(4)(b).

1724 C.F.R. § 966.55(d) .
However, if a tenant can show good cause why she failed to proceed in
accordance with the informal settlement conference procedure, the
requirements for exhausting the informal settlement conference can be
waived by the hearing officer or panel.

1824 C.F.R. § 966.55(g) .

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