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Types of Grievances

Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Last updated 28 November, 2005
  1. When do I have a right to file a public housing grievance?
  2. Can I file a public housing grievance against another tenant in the development?
  3. Can a grievance be filed by one public housing tenant for another tenant?
  4. Can a group of public housing tenants file a grievance?
  5. What if a housing authority says my grievance is not "grievable"?


When do I have a right to file a public housing grievance?

In addition to being able to file a grievance when a housing authority
sends you a notice about some action it is taking against you, you can
file a grievance if you or anyone in your household has been hurt by
something that the housing authority has done or not done.1 For example, you can file a grievance if the housing
authority is does any of the following:

  • Refuses to adjust your rent
  • Does not process your request for a transfer
  • Does not
    answer requests for repairs
  • Refuses your request to keep a pet2
  • Staff or board treats you unfairly or harasses you
  • Has acted (or not acted) in a way that causes you harm or hardship

The grievance procedure is also available to resolve any disputes
that you have about how the housing authority is handling your personal information.3 For example, you may discover that the manager
has inappropriately disclosed information that should be kept private.

No right to a grievance hearing

A public housing authority may, in some cases, deny you a grievance
hearing if you are being evicted for certain types of behavior. State
and federal rules about who has a right to a grievance hearing when
facing an eviction are different and both can be complicated.

To figure out whether you are entitled to a grievance, you will need to
look closely at your housing authority’s grievance policy, your lease,
and the facts involved in your situation.

State public housing

If you live in state public housing, you do not have a right to a grievance hearing if you are
being evicted for the following activities:4

  1. Non-payment of rent, unless your lease gives you a right to a grievance
    hearing.5
  2. If a tenant, household member or guest has:
    • harassed or threatened a tenant, housing authority employee,
      or guest;
    • destroyed, vandalized, or stole property from a tenant, housing authority employee or guest;
    • unlawfully possessed,
      carried, or kept a weapon on or next to housing authority property;
    • unlawfully possessed or used an explosive or incendiary device on or
      next to housing authority property;
    • unlawfully
      possessed, sold, or possessed with intent to distribute a class A, B,
      or C controlled substance on or next to housing authority property (if
      the unlawful activity involves marijuana, which is a class D substance,
      a tenant should still get a grievance hearing6
    • engaged in other criminal conduct that has seriously threatened or endangered the health or safety of a
      tenant, housing authority employee, or guest; or
    • engaged
      in behavior that would be cause for terminating the lease because of an
      occupant’s illegal use of the apartment under state nuisance laws, such
      as prostitution, illegal gaming, or selling of alcoholic beverages.7

Note:

In
most cases, only if a housing authority believes that you knew or
should have known beforehand that there was a reasonable possibility
that your guest would engage in misconduct, can it deny you a right to
a grievance hearing.8

Federal public housing

Federal rules permit, but do not require, housing authorities to deny
tenants grievance hearings in evictions involving:9

  • any criminal activity that threatens the health, safety, or right to peaceful
    enjoyment of the premises of other residents or housing authority employees;
  • any violent or drug-related criminal activity on or off the
    premises; or
  • any criminal activity that resulted in a felony conviction of a household member.

These types of evictions are not automatically excluded from the grievance process. Your housing authority must decide whether it wants to exclude any or all of the above types of evictions from the grievance process and then describe this in its grievance procedures.10

Note:

If you live in federal public housing and you would have the right to a grievance hearing under state law, you get this right as a federal public housing tenant, too.11 For example, while there usually is no grievance right for federal public housing tenants when a household member is charged with drug possession, state law does provide such rights if the drug is marijuana.

Can I file a public housing grievance against another tenant in the development?

No. You cannot use the grievance procedure to file a complaint
against
another tenant. If, however, you have complained about another tenant’s
conduct to the housing authority and the housing authority has failed
to adequately respond, you may file a grievance against the housing
authority.12

Can a grievance be filed by one public housing tenant for another tenant?

No. A grievance cannot be filed by one
tenant on behalf of another tenant.
A tenant can file a grievance, however, on behalf of a member of her own household.

Can a group of public housing tenants file a grievance?

State public housing

Tenants in state public
housing have the right to file grievances together, so long as each tenant individually files his or her own grievance.13
For example, if a manager of a development was completely unresponsive
to tenant "no heat" complaints, tenants might want to file all
grievances together asking that action be taken to require the manager
to immediately fix the problem and reduce their rent in the meantime.

Federal public
housing

In federal public housing, tenants cannot file a grievance together
(otherwise referred to as a class grievance). The federal law is also
clear that the grievance procedure is not a forum for negotiating
policy changes between groups of tenants and the housing authority.14

What if a housing authority says my grievance is not "grievable"?

First you should make sure that the matter is
grievable. In addition to being able to file a grievance when a housing
authority sends you a notice about some action it is taking against
you, you can file a grievance if you or anyone in your household has
been hurt by something that the housing authority has done or not done.

State public housing

If a housing authority staff person
says that your grievance is not a matter that can be grieved, and you
feel it is, you have a right to request your housing authority Board of
Commissioners to review this decision. You must do this within 14 days
of when the housing authority sends you a decision saying that the
matter is not "grievable."15

If you do not receive anything in writing from the housing authority
saying that you cannot have a grievance hearing on a particular matter,
ask them to put that decision in writing. Maybe they will change their
mind. But if not, you will have the piece of paper you need to
challenge this decision.

Federal public
housing

In federal public housing, the Board of Commissioners may determine whether a grievance is not grievable.16
Therefore, a tenant should have the opportunity to ask the Board to
review a decision by the housing authority that the grievance was not
grievable.


1760 C.M.R. § 6.03 (definition of "grievance"), referencing 760 C.M.R. § 8.00.

2There are special pet grievance rules and committees for state elderly/disabled public housing. See St. 1989, c. 151, and 760 C.M.R. § 6.07(5). Pet ownership is not specifically provided for in state family public housing. For federal public housing, the regular grievance procedure would apply.

3760 C.M.R. § 6.03, see (c) under definition of "grievance," and 760 C.M.R. § 8.05.

4760 C.M.R. § 6.06(7)(a), 760 C.M.R. § 6.06(7)(b)1-8, and M.G.L. c. 121B, § 32, paragraph 7. Even if a lease and grievance procedure say that a tenant has grievance rights in these kinds of cases, tenants do not because state law eliminated any rights that they may have had under the lease or grievance procedure.

5For example, the housing authority may use the same lease for its federal and state public housing tenants with permission (or under a waiver) from DHCD. This is the case for the Boston Housing Authority.

6The following are examples of classes of drugs under Chapter 94C:

Class A: Heroin, Morphine, Codeine, Prescription Opiates
Class B: Opium, Cocaine, LSD, Methadone, PCP, Barbiturates, Amphetamines
Class C: Mescaline, Peyote, Psilocybin (psychedelic mushrooms)

7M.G.L. c. 121B, § 32; 760 C.M.R. § 6.06(7)(b)1-8. The state’s nuisance law is M.G.L. c. 139, § 19.

8760 C.M.R. § 6.06(7)(c), M.G.L. c. 121B, § 32 paragraph 7. This standard is similar to that discussed in Hodess v. Bonefont, 401 Mass. 693, 519 N.E.2d 258 (1988). There may be an exception to this if the state nuisance laws are involved and the housing authority can show that the guest was an "occupant" of the unit.

924 C.F.R. §§ 966.4(1)(3)(v), 966.51(a)(2)(i).

1024 C.F.R. §§ 966.4(l)(3)(v), 966.51(a)(2).

11For circumstances in which an eviction is and is not grievable under state law, see M.G.L. c. 121B, § 32. For the proposition that state law grievance rights apply even if you live in federal public housing, see Spence v. Reeder, 382 Mass. 398, 416 N.E.2d 914 (1981).

12 24 C.F.R. § 966.51(b) ; 760 C.M.R. § 6.03 , see (d) under definition of " grievance ." See also 760 C.M.R. § 6.06(4)(p) , which states that the housing authority must commence eviction proceedings against other tenants whose behavior has jeopardized the health and safety of the grieving tenant

13 The state definition of "grievance" at 760 C.M.R. § 6.03 , unlike the federal rules, does not have any restriction on "class grievances." However, to be on the safe side, each individual who is seeking relief should file a grievance.

14 24 C.F.R. § 966.51(b) . Tenants do have rights, however, through their tenant organizations, as well as their Resident Advisory Boards, to negotiate policy changes with the housing authority. See 24 C.F.R. § 964 (tenant participation rules) and 24 C.F.R. § 903 (Public Housing Agency Plan). In addition, the housing authority must give affected tenants 30 days' written notice and an opportunity to comment on any proposed changes in the lease; the grievance procedure; or charges, policies, or rules that are incorporated by reference into the lease. See 24 C.F.R. §§ 966.3 (lease), 966.5 (charges, policies, or rules), and 966.52(c) (grievance procedure).

15760 C.M.R. § 6.08(4)(h).

16
24 C.F.R. § 966.57(b).

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