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Your Right to a Grievance

Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Last updated 28 November, 2005
  1. What is a grievance procedure in public housing?
  2. When am I supposed to be notified about my public housing grievance rights?

What is a grievance procedure in public housing?

A grievance
procedure is a process to resolve disputes between residents in public
housing and a housing authority. It is a way to try and work out
problems without having to go to court. As a tenant, you can use the
grievance procedure in two different ways:

  • To oppose some
    action that a housing authority wants to take against you (For example:
    Housing authority refuses to let you add someone to your lease)
  • To hold your
    housing authority staff and board accountable for the way they have
    acted or not acted (For example: Housing authority does not respond to
    your request to make repairs)

Important:
It is illegal for a housing authority to try and evict or harass you
for filing a grievance or testifying at a grievance hearing.1
The grievance procedure is there to resolve problems. Don’t let the
housing authority try to scare you away from using the grievance
procedure.

Housing
authorities must have written grievance procedures. Ask your housing
authority for a copy of your grievance procedure. In some cases, your
rights under your grievance procedure may also be spelled out in your
lease.

While grievance
procedures for tenants in Massachusetts state and federal public
housing are fairly similar, they are not identical.2 In order to figure out what your rights are, you need to know whether you are a state or federal public housing tenant.

When am I supposed to be notified about my public housing grievance rights?

If a housing
authority takes some action against you, in most cases, you have a
right to a grievance hearing and the housing authority must notify you
about this right. This notice must be in writing and it must include
the deadline by which you must file a grievance.3

For example, your
housing authority must give you notice that you have a right to file a
grievance if the housing authority is doing any of the following:

  • Terminating your lease
  • Changing your rent
  • Requiring you to transfer
  • Denying your request for a transfer
  • Denying your request to add someone to the lease
  • Denying a request for a reasonable accommodation for a disability
  • Denying a request to be excused from the community service requirement

Make sure that you
file a grievance by the deadline on the notice and in the way described
in the notice. Otherwise, you may lose your right to a grievance.

If you did not get
a notice that you have a right to a grievance hearing and you should
have, the housing authority will probably have to start the whole
process over again.

Example:
If the housing authority is going to court to evict you because you
refused to transfer to another apartment, but you never received a
written notice telling you that you have a right to a grievance
hearing, tell the court. Then ask the court to dismiss the case and to
tell the housing authority to start the process over by informing you
in writing of your right to a grievance hearing.

Footnotes

1Such an action would violate state anti-retaliation laws. See M.G.L. c. 186, § 18, and M.G.L. c. 239, § 2A.

2For the state grievance laws, see 760 C.M.R. § 6.08 and M.G.L. c. 121B, § 32. For the federal grievance laws, see 24 C.F.R. § 966, Subpart B and 42 U.S.C. § 1437d(k).
In the past, the Department of Housing and Community Development
(DHCD), the state agency that oversees state public housing, said that
its grievance regulations applied to both state and federal public
housing. See Commissioner of Department of Community Affairs v. Medford Housing Authority, 363 Mass. 826, 298 N.E.2d 862 (1973), and Harborview Residents’ Committee v. Quincy Housing Authority, 368 Mass. 425, 332 N.E.2d 891 (1975). This is no longer DHCD’s position. See 760 C.M.R. § 6.02(1) (DHCD’s regulations apply to persons residing in state-aided public housing).

3For federal public housing, see 24 C.F.R. § 966.4(e)(8). For state public housing, see 760 C.M.R. § 6.06(4)(j).

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