Forming a Tenant Organization in HUD-Subsidized Multifamily Housing

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The idea of talking to your landlord by yourself might be scary. Maybe it would be easier to do with your neighbors. Your neighbors might be having the same problems you are having with your landlord, the condition of your home, or the condition of common areas. You may want to organize to discuss these problems. If you live in multifamily subsidized housing, you have the right to organize with other tenants. Multifamily subsidized housing includes public housing and privately owned multifamily housing. In public housing, tenant organizations are called resident councils.

You might want to form a tenant organization if your landlord does any of the following:

  • Does not keep units or common areas in a safe, sanitary condition

  • Does not make repairs you request

  • Discriminates against you or other tenants

  • Enters tenant units without giving notice

  • Forbids you or other tenants from meeting to talk about housing problems

A tenant organization can meet and talk about any of these issues:

  • Living conditions

  • The terms of your leases

  • Activities related to your housing community

Your tenant organization must do all of the following:

  • Meet regularly

  • Run democratically

  • Represent all tenants in your complex

  • Allow any tenant in your complex to join

  • Not include your landlord, management, or their representatives

Your right to organize is not protected if you do not do all these things.

Forming Your Tenant Organization

You do not need permission from your landlord to form a tenant organization. When forming your tenant organization, you have the right to do any of the following:

  • Hand out leaflets in your lobby or other common areas

  • Put leaflets on or under tenants’ doors

  • Talk to tenants about organizing 

  • Post information on bulletin boards

  • Help tenants go to meetings and other events

You also have the right to work with a tenant organizer. This is a person who helps organize the tenants in your complex. A tenant organizer does not have to be a tenant. If your tenant organizer is not a tenant, a tenant must be with your organizer while on the rental property.

If there’s a community room or space for meetings, your landlord must let you use it to organize. If you live in privately owned multifamily housing, you may be charged a fee if there is usually one to use the space. The fee must be reasonable and approved by HUD. If you live in public housing, the Public Housing Authority (PHA) cannot charge you to use a meeting space. It must also provide office space for the organization free of charge.

Not all tenants will want to join the tenant organization. If a tenant rejects your invitation, you cannot ask them to join again and again. To learn about tenant rights and responsibilities, read the article Multifamily Subsidized Housing: Tenant Rights and Responsibilities (coming soon).

You have these rights even after your tenant organization has formed. For example, you can use leaflets or posters to tell tenants about future meetings or other events.

After Forming Your Tenant Organization

Once a tenant organization has formed, your landlord has some responsibilities. Your landlord must do all of the following:

  • Not try to evict or otherwise punish tenants for organizing or asserting their rights

  • Recognize a legitimate tenant organization

  • Allow tenant organization meetings in community space that is part of the project

  • Provide access to a meeting place for tenants with disabilities

  • Respond to valid requests from your tenant organization

  • Let outside tenant organizers meet with you on the rental property

  • Not attend tenant organization meetings without your permission

  • Not form a tenant organization to compete against yours

If your landlord wants to make a big change to your rental property, you must get notice of the change. You must also get the chance to comment as a tenant organization. These changes include:

  • Increasing rent

  • Changing rental units into non-rental units, cooperative housing, or condominiums

  • Changing landlord-paid utilities to tenant-paid utilities

  • Making big changes or additions to the rental property

  • Ending subsidized housing for the rental property

Challenging Your Landlord

If you think your landlord violated your right to form a tenant organization, you can file a written complaint with the local Housing and Urban Development (HUD) field office. Send a copy of the complaint to your landlord.

Include evidence with your complaint that shows your landlord violated your rights. For example, you may attach signed statements from the tenants who saw the violations. Or you might send documents showing the landlord refused to provide an accessible meeting place for tenant organization meetings.

A HUD official will discuss the complaint with your landlord. If the HUD official thinks your landlord violated your right to form a tenant organization, your landlord will be punished and will have 30 days to fix the mistakes.