Understanding Section 8

What is Section 8 Rental Assistance?

The Section 8 Rental Assistance Program, now known as the Housing Choice Voucher Program, is operated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and is administered by agencies throughout the county. This program provides rental assistance to individuals and families whose gross income is at or below (at least) 50% of the area median income level based on their family size. Income eligible families and individuals receive rent subsidies called Housing Choice Vouchers aka /Section 8 Voucher. 
The program provides a rent subsidy to the family based on a formula, which is used to calculate the Housing Assistance Payment (aka HAP) and the tenant’s share. The program pays their calculated portion directly to the landlord and the tenant is responsible for paying their portion directly to the landlord.

Are All Landlords Eligible to Rent to a Section 8 Tenant?

All landlords with legal single and multi-family properties are eligible to participate. Landlords may not discriminate against families with Section 8 Assistance, but should screen the prospective tenant the same as they would any other tenant. Landlords may not lease units to their own relatives unless the Section 8 recipient has a disability that requires special assistance. And, Section 8 has a form for that. 

How Do You Get A Section 8 Tenant?

If you are interested in renting to a Housing Choice Voucher holder, the easiest way to find one is to advertise your vacancy on the internet or in a local newspaper. Another good way to find a tenant is to call your local Section 8 Program, tell them you’re looking for a tenant, and ask if you can give them the information about your vacancy. Some offices have a bulletin board in their main lobby where notices are posted and you may be able to post there if they do not want to take the information over the phone. Also, if you don’t want to do the application, screening and showing of the apartment yourself, you can always list it with a real estate agent.

What is the Procedure For Leasing to a Section 8 Tenant ?

It’s not as quick as leasing to someone who is not on a rent subsidy program, however, understanding the procedure will help you gauge the amount of time involved from showing to leasing. Once the tenant sees the apartment and wants to lease it, there are a few steps that have to be taken:

1) Paperwork must be filled out -namely the Request For Tenancy Form and the Lead Base Paint Form. The tenant must have prior approval from Section 8 before moving from one apartment to another. When the tenant gets permission to move, they also get the paperwork, so they should have it in their possession when they search for a new apartment. If they don’t have the packet, they may not have been approved to move-so be sure to ask why. Timing is important when it comes to this paperwork being completed. Most offices have a deadline as to when the paperwork must be back in their hands in order to get a new lease on the 1st of the following month. Deadline dates do vary from office to office. You can’t fill out papers on the 28th of the month and expect the tenant to be able to move in on the first of the month. The unit must pass the inspection before they can move. 

2) A Housing Quality Inspection is scheduled, and it must be passed before any paperwork for contracts can be generated. The Section 8 office generates the Housing Assistance Payments contract after the unit passes inspection. The contract must be signed by the landlord and the tenant. If the unit fails inspection the 1st time around, the landlord will be given time to make the required repairs and a re-inspection will be done.  For more information on what the inspector will be looking for see the article on: Passing the HQS Inspection

3) Once the above requirements are met, the lease can be expedited. The landlord is responsible for executing his/her own lease. A minimum one year lease is usually required.
One word of caution:

Section 8 does not pay the security deposit. The tenant is responsible for it. In some cases, the Department of Social Services will pay security if the tenant qualifies for that type of help.

What if the Tenant Damages the Apartment?

Section 8 used to pay for damages done to an apartment, but that is no longer true. I can’t repeat this enough- screening is very important! Be sure to refer to our article “How to Choose a Tenant”. The information there could save you a lot of headache and a barrel of money.

Section 8 does not pay for damages, so what is your recourse? Small Claims Court. That’s why collecting all the information you can before the lease is signed is very important. You can report the damage to their Section 8 office, you can send photos of the damage, you can rant and rave and cuss. Section 8 does not pay damages. Small Claims Court is your only recourse, unless the tenant has secured a security guarantee from DSS.  If you file a claim and win, and report it to Section 8, you may be able to have the family’s voucher revoked if they do not comply with the court order. But in the meantime, the money comes out of your pocket.

A ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

What if I Don’t Want to Renew the Lease?

You must notify the tenant and their Section 8 office in writing that you do not intend to renew the lease. This should be done at least 60-90 days prior to the end of the lease. It should be sent to both parties- the tenant and the Section 8 office. A copy should be sent to the tenant  by certified mail-return receipt requested, and by regular mail. Make sure you keep a copy. This is your proof that you gave the notice within the legally required time frame. 

How Often Will the Unit be Inspected and what is Expected of me?

Section 8 requires that the unit be inspected at least every other year but some offices still inspect every year. It is up to the office whether they do annual or bi-annual inspections. If there's a history of recurrent failures and problems, the unit will definitely be inspected once a year or more often if there are tenant complaints. Non-compliance can result in rent payments being abated, the tenant being forced to move or, the tenant can lose their voucher. If they lose the voucher, you may lose the better portion of your rent payment, unless the tenant can carry 100% of the rent . 

A tenant can also call their Section 8 office and request a special inspection if an urgent problem pops up that threatens their health or safety and you don’t respond to a request for maintenance. Likewise, a landlord can also request an inspection if he or she feels that the tenant has damaged the unit, is doing something that violates the lease agreement, or is jeopardizing the health and safety of other tenants in the building.

Click the link below to understand what is required to pass the inspection: 

How to Pass the HQS Inspection the First Time

Click this link to learn about the advantages of renting to a Housing Choice Voucher tenant​:

Good Reasons to Consider Renting to a Housing Choice Voucher  Tenant

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