By Runa Rajagopal, Senior Staff Attorney, MFY Legal Services
Tips that you can follow
The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) provides affordable housing for low to moderate income families throughout New York City. It is the largest public housing provider in North America with approximately 404,000 residents. This means that NYCHA is home to about 8.4% of the city’s population.
Getting into public housing entails a long and extensive process. Some families wait five, ten sometimes fifteen years to get into NYCHA housing. In fact, right now there are over 135,000 families on the waiting list. Once a tenant obtains a NYCHA apartment, she is required to follow its rules and regulations; failure to do so can jeopardize a tenant’s housing.
MFY Legal Services, Inc.’s Mental Health Law Project is contacted daily by mental health consumers seeking legal help regarding their NYCHA apartment. Often they are on the verge of losing their NYCHA apartment due to misunderstanding the rules, being unaware of their rights and even due to discrimination, among other reasons. Considering how difficult it is to obtain a NYCHA apartment and with the ever-shrinking stock of affordable housing in New York City, it is increasingly important for mental health consumers who live in public housing to be able keep their homes.
The following are some useful tips when living in a NYCHA apartment:
Know the Rules
It is important for tenants to familiarize themselves with NYCHA’s rules and regulations. The first place a tenant can start is with her lease, which outlines tenant rights as well as responsibilities. A tenant can also go to the management office to obtain additional information regarding NYCHA rules. Lastly, several community and legal services organizations educate tenants and provide additional literature regarding tenant rights. For example, MFY has several fact sheets about NYCHA housing on our website (see www.mfy.org to “Get the Facts”).
Put It In Writing and Get a Stamped Copy
Any requests made to the management office should be documented in writing. Additionally, any letters or other documents you submit to the management office should be copied, stamped with the date and marked as “received,” and the copy should always be retained for your files.
Often times I have had tenants say they went to their management office several times about a certain issue and that management never responded to their requests; when I follow up management usually says this was the first time they heard about the issue. By following up with written requests, you are memorializing conversations you have had with your management office. NYCHA management will be unable to say they have not heard about a certain issue if they have received three letters from you about it.
There are some issues that cannot be resolved by the management office. Where a tenant has a dispute regarding an action or failure to act by NYCHA which adversely affects the tenant’s rights, duties, welfare or status, the tenant has a right to pursue the grievance process. The tenant can ask orally or in writing for the housing manager to informally address the dispute. If the tenant is not satisfied with the manager’s decision, the tenant can request in writing within ten days that the matter be reviewed by the Borough Management Office. If a tenant does not agree with the Borough Management Office decision, the tenant can make a written request for a hearing before an impartial hearing officer within ten days.
Add Family Members to the Household
Unlike in private apartments, when a tenant wants a family member to live with her permanently, she must get permission from NYCHA first. To do this, the tenant must request the form to add a family member from her management office which is filled out by the tenant of record and the family member. Within 60 days of submitting the form with all requested documentation, the housing manager will either approve or disapprove the request. If the request is disapproved, the tenant may pursue the grievance process. If approved, the family member can move in.
If the tenant of record ever vacates the apartment or dies, the family member will get a lease in her name if she lived with the tenant of record for a full year after being approved.
Tenants have complained about how difficult it can be to get repairs fixed in their NYCHA apartments. The first step is to notify your management office about conditions you have and how they are affecting you. Follow up in writing to document complaints you have made to the management staff and ask that they follow up by a certain date. NYCHA tenants should also call 718-707-7771 to make complaints, to schedule emergency repairs and to get an emergency work ticket. MFY has a fact sheet on how to obtain repairs in NYCHA housing (see www.mfy.org to “Get the Facts”).
If after taking these steps, NYCHA has failed to make repairs, you can take NYCHA to court. There is a special proceeding in Housing Court called an HP Action, which allows tenants to sue their landlords when they fail to make repairs.
Request Reasonable Accommodations
If there are things you are required to do as a tenant but cannot do because of your disability, fair housing laws allow you to request a reasonable accommodation. A reasonable accommodation is basically an exception in rules, policies, practices, or services when such an exception may be necessary to afford a person with a disability the equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling. MFY has fact sheets on the issue of reasonable accommodations (see www.mfy.org to “Get the Facts”).
Reasonable accommodations can be helpful to assist a tenant in complying with her obligations. Residents can also contact the Services for the Disabled Unit at NYCHA at 212-306-3652 regarding reasonable accommodation requests.
Where a tenant believes she has been the subject of unlawful discrimination because of a disability or other reason, the tenant has several options. If a tenant wants to work with NYCHA to report discrimination, she can contact NYCHA’s Office of Employment and Fair Housing Investigations at 212-306-4468 or can visit 250 Broadway, 27th floor, New York, NY 10007.
Where a tenant has a possible legal issue regarding her NYCHA apartment, she should remember there are several resources where information, advice or even legal help may be available. It is important to communicate issues and problems with your housing manager, who then may be required to make referrals and connect tenants with services where necessary. Also, reaching out to organizations like MFY as early as possible will enable the tenant to strategize about potential issues, to obtain advocacy regarding problems and may even help to prevent eviction from her NYCHA apartment.
The above are just a few tips to keep in mind with respect to living in NYCHA housing. By being aware of your responsibilities, invoking rights and accessing services, mental health consumers who live in public housing can continue to enjoy and maintain their affordable homes.