This information applies to tenants living in project-based Section 8 buildings or HUD multifamily housing. If you are looking for information on Section 8 vouchers, see Section 8 Voucher Organizing.
Section 8 tenants have rights, but in our society, having a right doesn’t mean it is respected. Those who have the power (property-owners, business-owners, wealthy people, etc.) tend to know their rights very well. And when they don’t, they usually have the money to hire an attorney to defend these rights in court.
Low-income people are in a much different situation. Affordable or free lawyers are often not readily available when we need them most. And the courts are filled with judges who are more likely to be landlords than tenants. The land-owners have control over a basic life need, and are by and large the same people who control our society on the larger scale.
The real truth, however, is that tenants are the ones with the power. There are many, many more of us than there are landlords. If we organize collectively, we can draw public attention to the needs of tenants and how to change tenants’ situation. We can set an example by taking a stand against a system that is stacked against us, in favor of the rich and powerful. The more tenants are educated, mobilized, and organized, the greater our control over our own lives will become. Knowing about these rights will help you start to shift the center of power away from the landlord and towards the tenants who live in the building.
Section 8 Tenants are covered by all state, local and federal laws just as other tenants are. But they are also covered by additional laws and regulations from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. You can read “Resident Rights and Responsibilities”:http://www.hud.gov/offices/hsg/mfh/gendocs/mfhrrr.pdf put out by HUD for Section 8 Tenants. Unfortunately, HUD’s widely distributed booklet leaves out many of your most important rights.
Your rights: the basics
The first step in having a working knowledge of your rights is knowing what rights tenants have won before you. If tenants are not informed enough about their rights to know when they have been violated, those rights might as well not exist at all.
The next thing every Section 8 tenant should know is that when an owner enters into an agreement to have project-based Section 8, that owner gets special deals from the government, including guaranteed monthly rental income, and/or low interest rates, or low mortgage payments.
In exchange, the government expects owners to follow certain rules to ensure that tenants are being treated well. However these rules are often not enforced by HUD, as they often are not aware of violations. Therefore, tenants must be the “eyes and ears” of HUD, and inform them in order to defend your rights.
The following information was taken from various HUD publications, many of which tenants never see, even when landlords are told by HUD to give one to each tenant. These publications include: HUD Management Agent Handbook 4381.5 REV-2, HUD Resident Rights and Responsibilities, as well as many others put out by tenants rights organizations around the country.
Did you know?
The owner is obligated by HUD
- Recognize legitimate resident organizations which meet regularly, operate democratically, are representative of all residents, and are independent of management.
- Provide an accessible meeting space within the premises for resident council meetings.
- Provide residents with information regarding rent subsidies and other public assistance.
- Respond to valid resident requests involving concerns about conditions or quality of life.
- Allow you to participate in decisions regarding the well-being of your home.
- Take immediate action to resolve all significant or recurring problems brought up by tenants.
- Provide a copy of any written request by a resident or Resident Council to the person filing it.
- Take immediate action to address problems brought to them by HUD.
The owner is not allowed to:
- Interfere with the efforts of residents to organize or to represent resident interests.
- Interfere with the efforts of residents to obtain rent subsidies or other public assistance.
- Discriminate against tenants because of race, national origin, religion, beliefs or other protected classes.
- Withhold the use of community rooms when requested by the Resident Council in connection with the functions of the organization.
- Withhold the use of community rooms when requested by residents seeking to organize or collectively consider any matter pertaining to the project.
- Charge residents a fee for use of community rooms unless a fee is normally charged for other events (such as potlucks, etc).
- Send management representatives to resident meetings.
- Evict, threaten to evict, withhold benefits, or otherwise retaliate against residents for organizing or asserting their rights.
- “Buy resident leaders out” by offering special favors such as employment, reduced or free rent, preferential repairs, or other benefits not available to all residents in the development.
- Attempt to form a competing resident organization under the control of the management company or the owner.
- Sexually or otherwise harass tenants.
So, all Section 8 tenants have the right:
- To organize for better living conditions, more dignity, greater control over their own housing situation, tenant ownership, better treatment from the owner, and anything else they might want.
- To complain to HUD, other tenants, tenant organizations, or the media about Section 8 landlords who violate these regulations or otherwise bother them.
- To live in decent, safe, and sanitary housing.
- To have timely repairs and quality maintenance.
- To use common space to organize, consider tenant issues, or any other reason.
- To an immediate response to requests or complaints, without harassment or intimidation.
- To be given reasonable notice in writing of any inspectin or other entry into your apartment.
- To keep all information provided by management confidential.
- To be recognized by owners as having a voice in decisions.
- To equal treatment and use of the building’s services and facilities.
- To a one-year notice of the intent of the owner to get out of the Section 8 program in order to rent on the open market.
- To receive notice of, and to participate and comment on:
- HUD approval of rent increases
- conversion from owner-paid utilities to tenant-paid utilities
- reduction in resident utility allowance
- conversion of residential units to non-residential use
- HUD approval of major construction or remodeling
And every other right that tenants have according to local, state and federal laws.
If the owner violates these rules:
- HUD expects tenants or resident councils to adopt the following procedure for getting the owner to comply with these rules:
- Notify the owner in writing.
- Wait a reasonable amount of time for a response, or for the owner to fix the problem.
- If there is no response or the problem is not fixed, send the complaint in writing to the HUD Loan/Asset Manager for your building. To find out who the Loan/Asset Manager is, call HUD and ask them for the name of the Loan/Asset Manager for your building.
- Your HUD Loan/Asset Manager is supposed to make a note of violations during their management reviews, which could result in a lower overall rating. Your participation in management reviews and inspections is key to making sure HUD makes a record of problems.
- Failure to pass management or physical inspections can result in a HUD-imposed change of management. In extreme cases, it can result in a foreclosure on the mortgage or a repossession of the property by HUD. In some cases, HUD has sold the building to the tenants for $1 after repossession!
- HUD is rarely aware of violations since tenants rarely report them for fear of retaliation (which is, by the way, illegal). Since landlords routinely break this law, the safest thing to do is to complain as a group, collectively. Afterwards, with both the tenants and HUD watching them, they will be less likely to abuse your rights in the future.
More Options for Section 8 Renters
These are not the only options available to you if you wish to protect yourself and defend your rights. The key lies in eternally pushing for even more rights by organizing all the tenants in your building collectively to have a united voice. As new, higher standards of how owners must treat tenants are brought to the table, older and weaker standards become stronger.
Tenants can put pressure on the landlord in many other ways, too. Organizing a tenant council in your building is the most effective way to protect yourself. As a group you can identify strategies and tactics to win the changes you want in your home and protect your rights.
Tenants across the nation are organizing together and coming up with new and effective ways to win changes in their living situaiton. How and why to organize is the subject of the Section 8 Tenant Organizing Manual.