Right to stay in same government housing apartment

by strong
(knoxville,tn Co.)

Let's say a tenant has been living in government housing and the management had stopped the tenant's mail coming to the tenant apartment that she has lived in for 27 years, without her permission. Can the management do that? And can they make her move after all these years of being in the same apartment also?

Editors' Reply:
Let's deal with mail delivery first. You didn't say which government; more than 30 percent of our visitors are international, but we'll go ahead and assume that you're in the U.S. and speaking about being a tenant in a public housing development—a multi-family building filled with apartments for those who qualify for public housing.

If that is your situation, no, they can't stop mail delivery. I've been in the public housing buildings in my city at day-long events a number of times, and I can tell you that I've seen many types of cruelty to tenants by bad management.

Sometimes the managers are employees of the local housing authority, by the way, and sometimes now the housing authority is allowed to hire private property management companies. Despite the theory, I don't think the private management companies are necessarily any more responsive to tenants.

From what we have seen, the worst treatment comes from employees of the actual housing authority. The private companies know that their employees' behavior can be reported to the housing authority and that enough complaints might mean cancellation of their profitable contract.

Your first response should be to try to speak with two or three different individuals from the company or housing authority that is managing your building. We're going to assume you've asked someone politely at least once about this situation, although it's possible that you are afraid to do so. Don't be.

Someone who doesn't usually work in your building, or who works a shift that doesn't overlap the time of mail delivery might be more helpful.

If not, you should complain in writing to the housing authority itself. A public housing authority is composed of appointed persons, with the executive director and representatives of the local government or governments involved sitting in an ex officio (unofficial, non-voting) members of the authority. In this instance, "authority" just means the same thing as "board of directors."

Housing authorities are allowed to establish rules, some of which sound like they are directed toward children rather than respectable adults. They also are allowed to impose various types of punishments for violating those rules, but we can’t think of any case when non-delivery of mail would be used or justified in the U.S.

Your second question, whether you can be evicted from your apartment after 27 years, also has a pretty straight answer. The answer is "yes." Two primary reasons why you could lose your apartment would be:

1. Violation of some rule or rules. Obviously if you don't pay your rent, there's a rule against that. There may be other rules though.

For example, just to make one up, if you can't play loud music after 9 p.m., that might be a rule you violate. If you park in a "no parking" zone, that could be another violation. If you are late paying your rent, that might be another violation or it could count as a more serious violation.

Many housing authorities seem to have a system of counting up violations, and if you exceed a certain number or a certain seriousness, you can be evicted.

Federal rules also allow eviction for drug dealing and some other types of situations.

2. The building may not be obligated to remain public housing forever. Many buildings were constructed by private developers with the understanding that they would remain public housing for 17, 20, or 22 years, just to give examples.

If your building meets its contractual obligations with the government, it might be torn down or converted to market-rate rentals. In this case, you might not be able to stay in your same apartment even though you have never violated a rule.

So this should be a lesson to other public housing tenants. Public housing in the U.S. is meant to be a temporary solution when other housing options aren't available to you.

Don't become complacent and think you can stay in your same unit of public housing forever. While there is a lot of difference between cities, chances are pretty good that at some time in the future, you may have to move.


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