In 2000, after years of advocacy spearheaded by MAHT and other tenant groups nationwide, HUD adopted strong Right to Organize regulations (24 CFR Part 245), in English, Spanish, Russian, and Chinese. The regulations affirm and protect the rights of tenants in privately-owned, HUD assisted multifamily housing to organize their neighbors and collectively address issues in their buildings free from management harassment or intimidation. HUD tenants also persuaded HUD to incorporate by reference the Right to Organize regulations in the standard Model Lease that every HUD tenant signs with their landlord.
Legitimate Tenant Associations and Protected Activities
The Right to Organize regulations define a “legitimate” tenants association, which must be a group that “meets regularly, operates democratically, is representative of all tenants in the development, and completely independent of owners and their agents”.
The regulations are written to give tenants in an early-stage "Organizing Committee" protected rights to organize, as long as they meet these standards. The regulations do NOT require written by-laws, incorporation or even elections, for an Organizing Committee to be protected by HUD and recognized by HUD and owners as a legitimate tenant association.
The Right to Organize regulations also provide a list of activities that HUD tenants have the right to perform in order to establish, promote, participate in and operate a tenant organization. Examples of these activities include the right to meet without management present, to leaflet, door knock, post flyers, and invite in outside organizers and attorneys to help tenants organize and assert their rights.
The Part 245 regulations do NOT apply to tenants in Public Housing, which is owned by local housing authorities and governed by different regulations. Tenants in Public Housing that has been converted to private ownership through the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) also have similar yet slightly different organizing protections from those which govern HUD-assisted multifamily housing. Click here to view the RAD tenant organizing rights.
Enforcing the Right to Organize
As outlined in HUD's Management Agent Handbook (4381.5, REV 2), it is illegal for building owners and property managers to violate the organizing rights of HUD tenants. Both the Right to Organize regulations and the Handbook require owners and managers to recognize legitimate tenant associations, as defined in the regulations.
In Chapter 4, titled “Working with Residents”, the handbook defines what actions taken by management against tenants is considered harassment. Examples of these prohibited actions include:
- Denying an accessible meeting place for tenant meetings
- Sending management representatives to tenant meetings when tenants have not invited them
- Penalizing tenants for utilizing their organizing rights through eviction, the threat of eviction, or withholding other entitlements
- Attempting to influence the decisions of tenant organization leaders through bribes or preferential treatment
- Forming a competing tenant organization under the control of the owner or property manager
- Sexual harassment of tenants by owners or property managers
Getting HUD to enforce these regulations has been another story. In 2016, after years of advocacy by MAHT and other tenants, HUD published a Notice to owners and their managers highlighting the Right to Organize regulations and Management Agent Handbook requirements, and spelling out sanctions for owners that violate tenants’ rights. The Notice also establishes a procedure for tenants to file complaints about violations with their local HUD office.
Here is 2022 presentation from MAHT on the right to organize, prepared for a tenant training conference sponsored by the Greater Newark HUD Tenants Coalition.