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What Happens at the Hearing?

Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Last updated November 28, 2005
  1. When is a public housing grievance hearing held?
  2. Who hears public housing grievances?
  3. What happens at a public housing grievance hearing?
  4. What happens if I do not show up at the public housing grievance hearing?

When is a public housing grievance hearing held?

Once the

hearing panel or officer receives your grievance, the panel or officer must

schedule a date for your hearing and then give you and the housing authority

staff written notice of the time and place of the hearing. Either side may

postpone a hearing, by agreement of both sides or for what is called good

cause, such as illness, unavoidable absence of a party or witness, or failure to

allow you to review documents a sufficient amount of time before the

hearing.1

State public housing

In

eviction cases in state public housing, a grievance hearing must be scheduled

within 14 days. In addition, the hearing must be scheduled at least 15 days

prior to the termination date on your notice. You must be given notice of not

less than 7 days of the time and place for the hearing. A hearing of a grievance

on other issues should be scheduled as soon as reasonably convenient

following receipt of the grievance.2

Federal

public housing

Federal public housing regulations require that the

hearing be scheduled promptly and at a location reasonably convenient to

both the housing authority and the tenant. Notice of the hearing must, in

addition to stating the time and place of the grievance hearing, also state what

procedures will govern the hearing.3 Under federal rules, a

housing authority may establish what is called an expedited or quick grievance

procedure concerning evictions that involve criminal or drug-related

activity.4

Who hears public housing grievances?

An impartial hearing

officer or hearing panel will hear your grievance and provide a decision.

Impartial means that the hearing officer cannot be a person (or the

subordinate of that person) who held your informal settlement conference or

who was involved in the issue being grieved in any way.

A hearing

officer or member of a hearing panel cannot have any direct personal or

financial interest in the outcome of the dispute. Nor can an officer or panel

member be related by blood or marriage to any party or any person who is

the source of evidence (for example, a witness for the housing authority). If

you feel that a hearing officer or panel member will not be able to act

impartially in deciding your case, you can ask that the person not hear the

case and that there be a substitute hearing officer or panel

member.

The Massachusetts Union of Public Housing Tenants

provides trainings for hearing officers and panel members about how to handle

grievances. If the housing authority is setting up a hearing panel or recruiting

new panel members at your housing authority, you may want to suggest to

the housing authority that they contact the Mass. Union for training

assistance. They can be reached at 617-825-9750.

What happens at a public housing grievance hearing?

The

hearing must be conducted in a fair manner. At the hearing, the hearing officer

or panel will ask both you and the housing authority to tell your side of the

story. It is not uncommon for a hearing officer or panel to ask a tenant to go

first. At the hearing, both you and the housing authority have the right

to:

  • tell your side of the story,
  • question anyone who

    testifies, and

  • question the validity or accuracy of any

    evidence.

Right to a person of your choice at the

hearing

You and the housing authority have the right to have a

lawyer, advocate, or any other person of your choosing with you during the

grievance hearing and throughout all stages of the grievance process. In fact,

you can be accompanied by up to three people of your choosing at all stages

of the grievance process.

Public or private hearing

As a state or federal public housing tenant, you have a right to request that a

hearing be open to the public.5 Housing authorities cannot

request that a hearing be public. If you have supporters and want them to

come to the hearing, or this is a high-visibility case and you want the news

media present, having a public hearing may be helpful to you. On the other

hand, there can be private information that would come out at a hearing and

you might not want it to be public.

If you request that a hearing be

open to the public, this will occur unless the hearing officer or panel orders

otherwise.6 If you don't make such a request, the

hearing is held in private.

Important:

A hearing officer

or panel may exclude any person who does not conduct himself or herself in

an orderly fashion. If you or your supporters misbehave at the hearing, the

hearing officer or panel may take other measures to deal with the

misbehavior- including dismissing the

grievance.7

Evidence

At the
hearing, you have a right to submit written evidence such as a lease, or other
documents to support your position.8 This is very important,
because a hearing officer or panel cannot consider evidence unless either you
or the housing authority present it at the time of the hearing. The only time
that evidence can be submitted after a hearing is if a hearing officer or panel
requests it. Also, it is important to give hearing officers or panels copies of
relevant laws, policies, and rules so that they can take these into consideration
when making a decision.

Note:

If the housing

authority is asked to submit additional information, you must be given an

opportunity to respond to it (and vice versa).

Witnesses

In addition to presenting evidence at the hearing,
you have the right to bring people who have personal or direct knowledge
about the problem to testify at the hearing. If the housing authority brings
witnesses to testify, you also have a right to ask those people questions
about what they are saying. A hearing officer or panel may also question any
witnesses.

If the housing authority does not have witnesses who

personally know what went on, they may not be able to win the grievance.

For example, if the housing authority is relying only on the testimony of the

manager who received reports of your suspected misconduct from other

people, but the people who reported the conduct do not testify, you can ask

the manager whether she has any personal knowledge of the misconduct. If

the manager says no, you can ask the hearing officer or panel to rule against

the housing authority because the manager does not have any direct personal

knowledge of your misconduct and because you have not been given the

opportunity to question the people who reported the conduct.

Record of the hearing

The housing authority must keep some

kind of record of what happens at a grievance hearing.

What happens if I do not show up at the public housing grievance

hearing?

State public housing

There are no

provisions under state law about what happens if a tenant or housing

authority does not show up for a hearing. However, many housing authorities

follow the federal regulations outlined below.

Federal public

housing

 

Under federal regulations, if you do not show up at the

grievance hearing and you do not request a postponement (or what is called a

continuance), the hearing officer or panel may:

 

  • postpone the

    hearing for 5 working days or

  • decide that you have given up

    (waived) your right to a hearing.

The same is true if the housing

authority does not show up at the grievance hearing.

If the hearing

officer or panel must decide how to proceed due to the failure of either party

to show up, they should send written notice to both parties of the action

taken. If a hearing officer or panel decides to deny your right to a hearing, you

can still challenge a housing authority's actions in

court.13

Footnotes

1760 C.M.R. § 6.08(4)(c).

2760 C.M.R. §§ 6.06(8)(b), 6.08(4)(c).

324 C.F.R. § 966.55(f) .

424 C.F.R. § 966.55(g) .

524 C.F.R. § 966.56 (b)

(3); 760 C.M.R. § 6.08(4)(e).

6The regulations don’t discuss what your rights are if

the request for a public hearing is turned down.

7760 C.M.R. § 6.08(4)(e); 24 C.F.R. § 966.56(f) .

8The hearing panel is not required to follow the rules

of evidence that would apply in court. 760 C.M.R. § 6.08(4)(f); 24 C.F.R. § 966.56(f) .

9760 C.M.R. § 6.08(4)(f).

1024 C.F.R. § 966.56(g) .

1124 C.F.R. § 966.56(h) .

1324 C.F.R. § 966.56(d) .

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