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This content was last updated on 2/13/2024

What is a grievance procedure in public housing?

A grievance procedure is a process to solve disagreements between public housing residents and a public housing authority (PHA). It is a way to try and work out problems without having to go to court.

Does every PHA have a grievance procedure?

Yes. Every PHA must have a written public housing grievance procedure. A copy of it should be posted in their office. If you ask for a copy, they should give you one.  Some PHAs alsom post the grievance procedure on their website.

When can I file a grievance?

You can file a grievance about certain PHA decisions or actions if you don’t agree with them. It can be things like:

  • repairs they haven't made;
  • maintenance charges;
  • late fees;
  • their calculation of your rent;
  • not letting you add household members to your lease; and, most importantly,
  • when the PHA decides to evict you.

If you get a notice from the PHA that it is taking some action against you and you disagree, it is a good idea to contact your local legal aid office for help right away:

When can’t I file a grievance?

You can’t file a grievance:

  • to solve a dispute with another tenant;
  • as a group of tenants who want to challenge something; or
  • to try to make policy changes.
Can the PHA deny my request for a grievance hearing?

Yes, if they are evicting you for something that threatens the health or safety of other tenants or the PHA’s employees OR involves drug-related, criminal activity.

The PHA must have a written procedure that allows them to deny you a grievance hearing.  Make sure you read the procedure.  They must also provide this information in the eviction notice.  Even in these cases, the PHA must still file an eviction in court against you and go to trial.  If you want to fight the eviction, you must go to court.

How does the grievance procedure work?

There are 3 steps:

1.   The PHA sends you a notice about the action they plan to take – like eviction or raising rent. The notice must also give you information on your right to file a grievance.

2.   You file a grievance and meet with the PHA to talk about the issue. 

3.   If you can’t solve it that way, you can ask for a hearing. The hearing happens with an impartial hearing officer or panel. They might reverse the PHA’s decision.

It is very important to follow the deadlines for filing a grievance. If you miss the deadlines for filing a grievance and requesting for a hearing, you might not be able to challenge the PHA’s actions.

The grievance procedure is very important. It is a good idea to contact your local legal aid office for help right away:

How do I ask for a grievance?

You must ask for a grievance either verbally or in writing by the deadline. The deadline is in the notice you got from the PHA. It is better to ask in writing. Bring a witness with you when you file your grievance with the PHA.

Keep a copy of the grievance request for your own records. Ask the PHA to date-stamp it to show when you filed it.

What happens next?

At the meeting you will get a chance to tell your side of the story. It is a good idea to make a list of things you want to say. Bring any papers or things that can help support your story. It’s not a hearing but you want to bring all the important information with you.

The PHA must write up a summary of the meeting. They have to do this by the deadline set out in their grievance procedure. The summary should say:

  • who met;
  • when you met;
  • the solution that was decided on at the meeting;
  • the specific reasons for the solution; and
  • how to ask for a hearing if you still don’t agree with the decision.
How do I ask for a hearing?

Usually, you have a meeting with the PHA first to talk about the issue. But a hearing officer or panel can waive (cancel) this if you prove you have good cause for not having a meeting first.

You have to ask the PHA for a hearing. You have to ask in writing by the deadline stated in the meeting summary. Make sure you write the reasons you want a hearing and what action or solution you want.

If you miss the deadline to ask for a hearing, the PHA’s decision is final. But you can still fight the issue in court. 

The grievance procedure is very important. It is a good idea to contact your local legal aid office for help right away:

Who conducts the hearing?

The PHA must name a hearing officer or hearing panel to conduct the hearing and decide the dispute.  The grievance procedure should explain how they choose the hearing officer or panel. 

Can the hearing officer work for the PHA?

Yes, but only if both of these are truethey didn’t make or approve the action being argued and they don’t work under the person who did.

You should file a written objection if you feel the hearing officer or panel can’t be fair.

Do I have any rights before the hearing?

Yes. These include the right to:

  • review past hearing decisions;
  • look at any PHA documents, like records and regulations, that are directly important to the hearing.  You have the right to see these before the grievance hearing; and
  • copy documents (at your own expense).

If you ask to see a document and the PHA doesn’t make it available for you to look at, they can’t use it at the hearing and may not go forward with an eviction.

How do I get ready for the hearing?

First, make sure you have a clear understanding of why the PHA is taking the action against you. This is important so you can get the right information together.

Review your tenant file. Make copies of all documents that seem important to your case. These might be things like:

  • the lease;
  • any written complaints;
  • termination notices;
  • payment reports
  • inspection reports;
  • notes of conversations with PHA staff ;
  • witness statements; or
  • police records.

Think about any witnesses that you could ask to come to the hearingBut you can only bring witnesses that have direct information about the issue.

Write out your ideas about how to solve the problem.

Gather and organize any documents you are going to use at the hearing.

When will the hearing happen?

The hearing should happen at a time and place that is as convenient for both sides as possible. You should get a written notice telling you the time, place, and details about how the hearing will work. You should get the notice with enough time to get ready for the hearing.  If you can not be there on the scheduled date, you should ask the PHA as soon as possible to change the hearing date or time.

The grievance procedure is very important. It is a good idea to contact your local legal aid office for help right away:

What happens at a grievance hearing?

The hearing must be done in a fair manner. At the hearing, both you and the PHA representative have the right to tell your side of the story, question anyone who testifies, and question the truth or accuracy of any evidence.

Your rights at the hearing include:

Right to a person of your choice at the hearing. You have the right to have a lawyer, advocate, or any other person of your choosing to represent you during the hearing.

Right to a public or private hearing. You have a right to ask that a hearing be private or open to the public. The PHA can’t ask for a hearing to be public.

Right to present witnesses, evidence and arguments. At the hearing, you have a right to present written evidence to support your position. This is very important! A hearing officer or panel can ONLY use evidence that you or the PHA present at the hearing to make their decision.  You have the right to bring people who have personal or direct knowledge about the problem to testify at the hearing.

Right to argue the PHA’s evidence and cross-examine witnesses. If the PHA brings witnesses to testify, you have a right to ask those people questions about what they are saying. A hearing officer or panel can also question witnesses. Witnesses must have personal knowledge of what went on.

Right to record the hearing. There is no specific rule about recording a grievance hearing. If you find out that the PHA is not going to record the hearing, you can record it. If you are recording it, you need to let the PHA and hearing officer know. 

Right of tenants with special needs. Federal rules say that the PHA has to provide “reasonable accommodations” in the hearing process for people with special needs. These are things like:

  • qualified sign language interpreters;.
  • readers;
  • attendants; or
  • accessible locations - like having the hearing by phone or video if the tenant is home bound.
What happens after the hearing?

The hearing officer or panel must write up their decision and the reasons they made that decision. They have to do this within a reasonable amount of time. The decision should state the facts they used. They can’t use any documents or evidence that were not presented at the hearing. 

The hearing officer or panel sends the decision to you and the PHA.

The decision is generally binding on the PHA. If you win the hearing, it is final, and the case is over. The PHA can’t take it farther. But, if you lose the hearing, you still have the right to fight the issue in court.

If you lose, it is a good idea to contact your local legal aid office for help right away:


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