14-1 Advancing Tenant Protections: Know your Rights as a Resident

By Sid Betancourt, NLIHC

Public housing

According to federal regulation 24 CFR 964, usually referred to as “Section 964,” public housing residents have the right to organize and elect a resident council. A resident council is composed of a group of public housing residents representing their interests and the properties they live in. The “Section 964” regulation provides residents with the right to provide advice to their public housing agency (PHA) on processes like maintenance, modernization, security, resident screening and selection, and recreation. Resident councils should not be confused with Resident Advisory Boards (RABs), whose work is limited to developing a PHA’s plan.

Each year, PHAs are required to provide $25 per occupied unit using the PHA’s Operating Fund Grant. From this amount, at least $15 must be provided to resident councils to fund “tenant participation” (TP) activities (e.g. training and organizing) and $10 can be kept by the PHA to pay for other resident participation activities. (See the “TP Notice” PIH 2013-21.)

Section 964 also requires that almost every PHA have at least one resident commissioner on its governing board who is a public housing or voucher resident.

Multifamily HUD subsidized housing

Participation rights for residents in privately owned, multifamily HUD subsidized housing can be found in the regulation 24 CFR 245, often referred to as “Section 245.” Like public housing residents, multifamily housing residents can create and operate a tenant organization to address concerns in their building and any other activities, such as distributing leaflets, contacting residents door-to-door, and responding to an owner’s request to make changes such as increase rents or convert units to non-residential uses. However, Section 245 does not require a specific structure, written by-laws, or elections. To be recognized by HUD, a tenant organization must be created by tenants in a multifamily housing project, and the resident organization must meet regularly, operate democratically, represent all the residents in the development, and be completely independent of all owners and managers of the building.

According to HUD, tenants can participate in protected activities, which can be found in the Resident Rights and Responsibilities brochure. You can find a digital copy of the brochure at https://www.hud.gov/sites/documents/DOC_12162.PDF. Owners and management agents are also required to provide the head of household with a copy of this brochure at move-in or at recertification. To see if HUD has the brochure available in your language, you can call 1-800-685-8470 or visit http://www.hud.gov/offices/fheo/lep.xml

Finding your state tenant and landlord laws

Not all tenants are federally subsidized, but you still have rights that vary from state to state. To fully understand your rights, you can learn more about your state’s tenant protections. If you visit https://www.hud.gov/states and click on your respective state, you can scroll down and locate a link that says “Get Rental Help.” After clicking this link, you will find a lot of useful information, including a link titled “Local tenant rights, laws, and protections.” Here you can locate any tenant rights that are specific to your state.