Adopt Policy to Assure Fair Use of Community Room
HUD encourages—and federal laws require—equitable access to and usage of your site's common areas and community room for all residents. Handbook 4350.3 (HUD Occupancy Handbook), Chapter 2, notes that under the Fair Housing Act, owners may not “treat anyone differently in determining eligibility or other requirements for admission, in use of the housing amenities, facilities or program, or in the terms and conditions of a lease.”
For the specific purpose of using your community room for resident meetings, HUD says that you should work cooperatively with such groups as long as they are legitimate resident organizations that meet regularly, operate democratically, are representative of all residents at your site, and are independent of nonresident owners and management agents [Management Agent Handbook, 4381.5, Chapter 4]. Handbook 4381.5 further states that you “may not reasonably withhold the use of community rooms or other available space” and that you may charge a fee for such resident use “only if a fee is normally charged for the use of such space.”
But this addresses only a specific scenario for resident use of your community room. What about the resident who is looking for meeting space for an outside organization he belongs to? Or the resident who wants to use the space to host an anniversary party for her parents? For these kinds of requests, a written policy you can refer to comes in handy. “Have a policy and apply it equitably,” says Sue Boettcher, executive director of Edgerton Housing Authority in Wisconsin. “That way, the same rules apply to everyone.”
Boettcher says that there was a community room and common area policy in place when she came on board at Edgerton Housing Authority about 11 years ago. It has undergone a few changes since then, she says, primarily to deal with the issue of alcohol. “We did not allow alcohol, except in units, until about six years ago,” Boettcher explains. “Then we changed the policy to permit alcohol on our side patios up to 11 p.m. Now it says, 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays and 12 p.m. to 9 p.m. on weekends and holidays. We made the change to make things clearer.”
What Policy Should Cover
Boettcher says that it's best to be as specific as possible in your community room use policy. Her experience with a policy that originally had an end time for alcohol use, but no start time is an example of why that is a smart move. “We had situations where people would be sitting out with beers as early as 8 a.m.,” she says. “That's not something you want to see, especially when the public comes on site.”
Before making changes to the policy related to the use of alcohol, Boettcher says that she surveyed other housing authorities in her state. Some did not allow alcohol at all in common areas, while others did, with some restrictions. It was about a 50-50 split, she says.
Boettcher recommends that your policy, like our Model Policy: Set Policy for Community Room Use, should do the following:
Prioritize usage. Boettcher says that Edgerton's policy gives priority first to residents, then to those who are at the site to assist residents, followed by outside organizations. “We have home health organizations and senior services groups that come in and use the space,” Boettcher says.
Require pre-planning. Residents at Edgerton can't use the community room at will. The policy states that, “Residents planning to entertain should make an application in advance to the Executive Director for the use of the Community Room facilities.”
Address fees. Edgerton employs a range of fees for the use of its community room by outside organizations. Residents are not charged for their use of the space, “provided all is left in satisfactory order,” the policy states. “We might charge if the space has not been cleaned up,” Boettcher says.
Make the most of the space. “It helps to make us marketable,” Boettcher points out. “Our residents have limited living space in their units. We feel they deserve to have access to the community room for appropriate, personal use.”
Sue Boettcher: Executive Director, Edgerton Housing Authority, 800 Elm Dr., Edgerton, WI 53534; (608) 884-8454; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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