A U.S. District judge, ruling in a class-action suit brought by D.C. public housing tenants, has found that the city government violated the tenants' rights to adequate grievance procedures.

Barrington D. Parker, senior district judge, found in favor of the tenants on Friday, characterizing the city's handling of maintenance complaints from tenants as "abysmal." Parker ordered the city to implement a more responsive system for dealing with tenants' complaints about maintenance, many of which stem from problems with heating, water and rodent control.

In the suit, which was brought four years ago, six plaintiffs represented by lawyer Joel Polin charged the city and its public housing agency with failure to develop and use effective procedures to resolve complaints quickly.

Gaines Cleveland, one of several other lawyers representing the tenants, called the decision significant.

"We found that 60 percent of the complaints filed by public housing tenants were ignored by the city," he said.

"It was clear that the system was not working and that the tenants felt abandoned."

Parker concurred that more than 61 percent of the tenants' complaints "never received any response" from the National Capital Housing Authority.

He added that "31.4 percent who received a response from the District were required to wait for an average of 353 days before obtaining a final resolution of their grievance."

Included in the decree was a schedule to implement improvements.

Beverly J. Burke, special counsel to the D.C. corporation counsel, said the city has yet to decide whether to appeal the decision.

"We are disappointed in the results," she said. "We believe the court is in error. This is pretty new to us and we are still deciding what to do."

Parker found that the city had failed to give tenants adequate notice of the availability of a grievance procedure or to provide a system for selecting impartial hearing officers as required by federal law.

He took particular notice of the city's 10-day limitation rule, which requires tenants to file grievances within 10 days after the public housing agency has either responded or not responded to a complaint. He wrote that the rule is contrary to federal law and "underscores {the District's} continued hostility to the grievance procedure and its determination to cut off and deny ready access to the procedure."

" . . . A grievance does not become stale in 10 days," he added. "Memories and evidence of the effects of heat loss, lack of hot water and broken toilets linger much longer than two weeks."