What do I do if I have a problem or complaint about my public housing?

If the housing authority is treating you unfairly, you can file an official
grievance. You might be able to make them start treating you differently.

For example, suppose that your refrigerator stops working. The manager says
that you broke it somehow and you have to pay for repairs. But you know that you
didn’t do anything wrong, and it doesn’t seem fair to you that you should have
to pay. You could file a grievance. Then the housing authority would have to
listen to what you say and make a decision. If they decide that you were right
all along, you won’t have to pay for the refrigerator repairs.

Each housing authority has its own rules about grievances. If you want to
know the rules for your housing authority, you can ask for a copy of its
“administrative plan.” Anyone has a right to read the housing authority’s plan,
but they are allowed to charge you for the copy.

Although each housing authority has its own rules, there are some general
laws that all housing authorities have to follow:

  1. They have to let you see any documents, records, or regulations that relate
    to the issue at hand.
  2. They have to give you a hearing before someone impartial.
  3. They have to let you be represented by a person of your choice at this
    hearing. You can bring a friend, a neighbor, or a legal representative.
  4. They have to let you question their witnesses, and they have to let you
    bring your own witnesses to make statements that support your side of the story.
  5. They have to give you a written decision. (Remember to save the decision.)

If you decide that you want to stand up for your rights using the grievance
process, you have to go through a complicated series of steps.

First of all, you have to talk with the manager. This is called an “informal
hearing.” Basically, that just means that you and the manager talk about the
problem, and the manager decides whether or not to give you what you are asking
for. At this point, you don’t have to write anything down. You can just walk up
to the manager and start talking with him or her.

Once the conversation is over, you should ask the manager to write out a
“summary,” describing what you asked for and what the final decision was. The
regulations say that the manager has to write out a summary and give it to you,
whether you ask for it or not. But the truth is, most managers just ignore the
rules and refuse to write out summaries even when tenants specifically demand
them. Ask for one anyway. If they don’t give it to you, that’s just one more way
in which they have violated your rights.

If the manager decides not to what you asked for, you can file an official
grievance. To file a grievance, you have to write something out. If you can’t
write, you should ask someone else to do it for you. If you can’t write in
English, your best bet would be to find someone who can, but you might also try
just writing something out in your own language.

Write out what you asked for, what the manager decided, and why you think the
manager was wrong. Then give the grievance to the manager or bring it to the
main office of the housing authority. You have to bring the grievance to them in
a reasonable amount of time or you will lose your chance for a hearing.

Different housing authorities run grievance hearings in different ways. Some
give you a hearing in front of 3 people; some only give you a hearing in front
of 1 person. Either way, they have to give you a hearing in front of someone
other than the person who made the original decision. A manager can’t run a
hearing about him- or herself.

If the people who run the hearing decide that you were wrong, you might still
be able to win your case in court. Try talking your local Legal Aid .