Tenants Rights: You Can Have a Voice

Susan Floerchinger, Tenant Advocate

It is beyond me how the owner’s of a certain tax-credit, federally subsidized, Multifamily Elderly/Disabled apartment building continues to escape punishment for allowing their building here in Bozeman to rot down around the tenant’s ears. One of the owners is out of state, the other is local. It has multiple Rental Subsidized programs and is FHA insured. Currently, HUD has been talking with tenants of their rental housing programs across the nation on their proposed Bill, PETRA: Transforming Rental Assistance. No one wants PETRA to survive, yet HUD has asked stakeholders, tenants, and partners to continue talking about this Bill and what can be done to make it workable.
HUD has rules in place, but there seems to be an inability for HUD to enforce its own rules. Low income tenants are forced to live in buildings with no hot water, broken windows, illegal tenants, harassment, illegal eviction and daily violations of human rights, state and federal laws. Montana has the opportunity to help shape HUD’s new rental housing programs.

For the first time in history, low-income tenants who are recipients’ of rental subsidies ranging from Project Based Section 8, Home Choice Voucher, Multifamily Housing, Public Housing and other HUD rental programs get to have input on how HUD programs should operate. Comments from Tenant’s Rights, Harassment, Civil Monetary Penalties, Recertification, and Foreclosure are dealt with in weekly telephone conference calls. Tenants have been meeting with HUD in person since late 2009, in various groups’ representing the type of housing program they receive.

Those to be effected first are the tenants of Public Housing, fears of tenants being evicted for no reason other than conversion to HUD’s attempt to roll all 13 rental subsidy programs into one, PETRA, are real and statutes are in the works to prevent this. One program, one set of rules, guidelines, regulations, qualifying factors, and application procedures.  Or so HUD hopes. Everyone expresses concerns about PETRA, except for HUD. HUD wants to take their public programs into the private arena of finance in hopes of gaining ground on the $30 Billion dollar backlog for low-income buildings.

Many of these buildings are 30 years or more in age. Many of these buildings still operate with the same plumbing, cupboards, carpets, electrical wire ring, elevators and fire alarm systems as the day they opened their doors. Many of these buildings have never seen an exterminator come in to wipe out the infestations of spiders, bed bugs, fleas, those little gnat things that seem to pop up out of no where. Too many of the repairs over the years have had to be made temporarily until funds could be found. Has anyone found those funds?

“You can’t fix what isn’t fixable.” One Elevator repair man states, as his co-worker is taken to the hospital by ambulance for an electrical shock received while trying to repair a 30 year old 100 unit, apartment building elevator in Bozeman, Montana. One repair person commented when asked how things were going at a building in Bozeman.  “It just won’t come clean any more, it’s just too old.” A professional carpet cleaner tells another tenant. “The stains are just too old, too deep. It doesn’t matter how much you clean it, they are just going to leach back up to the surface.”

There are apartment buildings closing for business all across the country right now. Low-income rental units are being lost at a startling rate of 150,000 per year. How many of those units will come from Bozeman, Montana this year? The elderly and disabled population of this town, county, state, and/or nation deserve better than to be warehoused with no more consideration than “shut-up, and pay the rent,” attitudes from the very agencies that were created to preserve low-income housing in the first place. Multi-property, absentee owners who spend more time, money, and consideration to the maintenance of their summer home in Hawaii, and managers who oversee the day to day operations of these collective portfolios, speak of these properties as if they are the stepping stones to their successes, Real Estate “WINNING IN RESIDENTIAL RENTALS.”

When an individual takes a first time home buyers class, it is drilled into them from day one – “If you can not afford to replace things like carpeting, roofs, plumbing, electrical, appliances, septic systems, then maybe you should rent until you have that reserve put aside for just such surprises of owning your own property.” When you RENT these things are the responsibility of the LANDLORD and state and federal laws seem to back up this concept. How long though does one have to wait for windows to be temporarily repaired due to the BIG HAIL STORM? 24 hours, 72 hours, a week, a month, and if you are 80 years old, or in a wheelchair, live in an apartment building who’s responsibility is it to make that timely, temporary repair that presents an issue to some tenants, of safety or health?

If you would like to shape HUD policies, regulations and the way tenants have to be warehoused like their possessions in a storage unit – OUT OF SIGHT, OUT OF MIND – in units that are presenting as abandoned property then – you can participate in these calls, all you have to do is make the effort, share your experience. If you are a low-income tenant, tired of living in a dump, having to put up with things that are just beyond reason, then here is your opportunity to make a difference not only for yourself, but millions of others who are living just as you are and in some cases much worse. You do not have to put up with building neglect, discrimination, harassment, or illegal entry. “Come on in and rent yourself a unit in our newly ORGANICALLY AIR CONDITIONED by nature newly remodeled apartment.”