Many tribes have tribal housing authorities. These are agencies that use federal funding to provide affordable housing to tribal members. Housing authorities may run several types of housing programs for tribal members, including MHO home ownership programs. MHO participants are actually purchasing the property. When the person has paid in full for the house, or when the entire project pays off, MHO homebuyers will receive property deeds.
Housing programs are administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. HUD oversees the program and makes sure that the housing authority is properly following the law. HUD also requires that the housing authority do certain things, like collect rent in a timely manner and provide habitable dwelling units.
When a person has problems with the property, the first thing they should do is contact the housing authority and see if the problem can be corrected. Participants have a duty to make payments and assist in keeping the property in good condition. If a participant is unable to make payments, the housing authority must work with them and structure a solution to the problem. This is often called a "pay back agreement." It must be in writing and must be signed by both parties. If you do not follow the agreement, the housing authority may terminate the agreement and evict you from the property. This may include legal action to regain the property.
If the property is suffering from a serious habitability problem, such as a leaky roof or faulty wiring, the housing authority may be able to correct it. In the MHO programs, minor repairs are the responsibility of the homebuyer. Major repairs may be the responsibility of the housing authority.
The housing authority has certain duties to its renters and homebuyers. It must have a payment collection policy that is in writing. The housing authority must have a written grievance policy that provides protections required by the Indian Civil Rights Act. The grievance policy must provide you with a right to be heard if you have a problem or complaint. The Housing Authority must provide counseling about the program and about fiscal responsibility. The housing authority must inspect the home at least once a year after informing the homebuyer of the date of inspection.
If the housing authority refuses to help the homebuyer, or files suit to regain the property, the homebuyer should contact a lawyer immediately for legal assistance. Delay will only worsen the problem.
OILS also handles a variety of other property interests, such as wills and probates, determination of heirships, trust and restricted land problems, and oil and gas questions.
For example, Indian probate cases are often difficult and involved. If trust or restricted land is left by the deceased, certain federal rules apply to its distribution to the heirs. The case may need to be brought in a special court. Many Indian estates were not probated in a timely manner. Determinations of Heirship allow the heirs to determine and establish their interests in the land. Wills are an essential legal document that allow a person to control the distribution of their property. A person who dies intestate - without a will - has their property distributed evenly according to state or federal law. OILS can assist in all of these problems.
Oil and gas reserves on Indian land create a unique set of legal issues for all parties. An oil and gas case may involve the BIA, the Mineral Management Service, the Solicitor's office, several oil companies, and hundreds of mineral owners. OILS has the experience and training to assist Indian mineral owners in understanding the legal problems and working toward a solution with the proper parties.
If you have questions about housing or property rights, you should call OILS on Tuesday or Thursday and complete an application for services. OILS may be able to assist you with the problem you are facing.