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Getting a Grievance Decision

Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Last updated November 28, 2005
  1. When do I get a decision on a public housing grievance?
  2. Can I challenge or appeal a public housing grievance decision?

When do I get a decision on a public housing grievance?

After a hearing, a hearing officer or panel makes a decision. This decision must be based solely on the evidence that you and the housing authority presented at the hearing and on any information provided after the hearing that was requested by the hearing officer or panel. The hearing officer or panel may also take note of any relevant laws, regulations, or housing authority rules and policies in making the decision, which is why it is important to make reference to any of these if they support your position.

The decision must be in writing and dated. It must state at least three things:

  • what facts a hearing officer or panel felt were true,
  • what the decision is, and
  • the reasons for the decision.

The hearing officer must provide a copy of the decision within a "reasonable time" after the hearing to the housing authority. The housing authority must then "promptly" mail it to you. The regulations do not define what these terms mean.

Note:

For state public housing, the housing authority must keep copies of all grievance decisions on file (with names and identifying references deleted) and make them available to the public upon request. There is no similar provision under federal rules. If, however, a housing authority were to make grievance decisions available for federal public housing, these too would have to have names and identifying references deleted.1

Can I challenge or appeal a public housing grievance decision?

State public housing

State regulations provide that either you or the housing authority have the right to ask the housing authority’s Board of Commissioners to review a grievance decision in most cases.2 This is called an appeal. The only time that you cannot appeal a grievance hearing is if a hearing officer or panel approved the termination of your lease. (The Boston Housing Authority does not have a Board of Commissioners, so grievance appeals go to the administrator or the person she chooses.3)

Note:

You do not have to move until a court orders you to.

To file an appeal, a tenant or housing authority must submit a written letter to the housing authority’s Board of Commissioners (or for the Boston Housing Authority, the appropriate administrator) within 14 days of receiving the hearing officer’s or panel’s decision. An appeal can be sought if you or the housing authority believe that the decision was not supported by the facts or did not correctly apply applicable laws, regulations, rules, or policies, or that the matter was not something subject to the grievance procedure.

The Board holds a meeting at which you and the housing authority are permitted to make oral presentations and submit documentation. The Board may also permit the hearing officer or panel to make a presentation. The Board shall then promptly decide whether to uphold, set aside, or modify the grievance.

The Board of Commissioners must notify you in writing of its decision and of the specific reasons for the decision within 5 working days of the Board meeting. If the Board does not issue a decision within 45 days of the date that a review was requested, the Board’s decision, when it is issued, must specify a reason showing that there was no undue delay.

If a Board of Commissioners makes a significant change in the hearing decision, you have the right to ask the state Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) to review the Board’s decision. (DHCD is the state agency that oversees state public housing.) To file an appeal with DHCD, you must send a written letter addressed to the Secretary of DHCD stating why the Board’s decision was improper. (See Sample DHCD Appeal Letter at the end of these materials.) You must send this letter within 14 days of receiving the Board’s decision. At the same time you send this letter to DHCD, you should send a copy to the housing authority. DHCD is required to review the Board’s decision and issue a written decision upholding, setting aside, or modifying the decision of the Board.4

Federal public housing

In federal public housing, there is no stated process for the housing authority or a tenant to appeal a grievance decision to the Board of Commissioners or any other agency. However, federal rules state that a housing authority is not bound by a grievance decision if the Board of Commissioners decides and promptly informs the parties that the matter was not grievable or the decision was contrary to applicable law, in which case the grievance decision becomes non-binding (not enforceable).5 This should mean that either the tenant or the housing authority could make a written request to the Board of Commissioners to set aside the decision. Tenants in federal public housing do not have a right to ask the state Department of Housing and Community Development to review a Board decision.

Opening meeting law

Under the state’s open meeting law, when the Board of Commissioners hears an appeal of a grievance hearing decision, its meeting must be open to the public. If the Board of Commissioners refuses to hold an open meeting on the appeal, you may need to contact your local district attorney and ask him or her to enforce the open meeting law. The district attorney can take legal action to request that a new meeting be held that complies

1760 C.M.R. § 6.08(4)(g); 24 C.F.R. §§ 966.56(b)(5), 966.57(a).

2760 C.M.R. § 6.08(4)(h). The Boston Housing Authority does not have a board of commissioners, so grievance appeals go to the administrator or her designee (see St. 1989, c. 88). For other housing authorities, prior to DHCD’s regulations being revised in 1998, tenants were allowed to seek Board review in all cases, but the housing authority could do so only where it could show that the decision was contrary to law or arbitrary. In addition, prior to 1998, lease termination cases could be reviewed by the Board. If your housing authority’s grievance procedures still contain the prior standards, these govern.

3See St. 1989, c.88

4760 C.M.R. § 6.08(4)(i).

524 C.F.R. § 966.57(b).

6The state open meeting law is M.G.L. c. 39, § 23A.

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