Ins And Outs of Section 8 and Housing Choice Voucher Programs

The ins and outs of section 8 and other housing choice voucher programs. Landlords are encouraged to seek legal counsel and set policies .

The ins and outs of section 8 and other housing choice voucher programs. Landlords are encouraged to seek legal counsel and set appropriate policies for handling housing-choice voucher applicants.

By Denise Holliday

The Housing Choice Voucher Program is the federal government’s major program for assisting low-income tenants, the disabled and the elderly to afford safe and sanitary housing in the private market.

This program allows the participants to find their own housing, which may include single-family homes, townhomes, or apartment communities, but does not currently include other forms of housing options such as mobile home parks or RV parks.

Participants are free to choose any housing that meets the requirements of the program, are not limited to units located in subsidized housing projects, and may even include the residence where they currently live.  The housing provider must agree to participate in this program, abide by certain terms and conditions that are part of the HAP contract, accept the voucher that will verify the total amount of rent to be paid, and the housing must meet minimum health and safety standards by passing an inspection.

That being said, the cities of Tucson, Phoenix and Tempe have passed ordinances under which a landlord is NOT allowed to refuse an applicant solely because the applicant has a voucher.  Each city has provided some guidance on its interpretation of a landlord’s policy that an applicant must have verifiable income of at least a certain amount (typically two to three times the monthly rent).  That guidance is that the landlord should limit that requirement solely to the amount of the tenant’s portion of the monthly amount.  Some landlords require applicants to verify legal income of at least a minimum amount, and there is no current guidance on that issue.

Assuming that the applicant meets the screening requirements, the parties then notify the PHA of their joint interest in renting a dwelling, and Section 8 then schedules an inspection of the dwelling unit to ensure that it complies with Section 8’s housing quality standards (“HQS”).

The inspection department is also responsible for determining “rent reasonableness” for the unit. What rent is reasonable for a particular unit may depend upon the ZIP code in which the unit is located, the age of the property, the number of bedrooms and the unit location.  It will also hinge on the amount of rent that the property charges non-Section 8 residents for the same apartment type and style. Before Section 8 will approve a unit, properties must submit to Section 8 three actual leases that they have entered into with non-Section 8 tenants over the last twelve months and the rent for those units must average the same or higher rent than what is being sought for the specific unit being offered to the voucher holder. The property is NOT required to lower its rent in order to allow a voucher holder to live there. There is currently no clear guidance as to whether the landlord may redact the tenant identities on the copy of leases provided to that agency.

Section 8 must approve, in advance, the lease between the voucher holder/applicant and the property. That lease must have the same start and ending dates as the HAP i.e. Section 8 contract that the property and Section 8 will enter into at the same time. It is illegal for a landlord to require any special criteria or increased rent that applies only to voucher recipients.

The lease must not contain certain provisions that are prohibited by state or federal law. Those provisions are identified on the voucher and on the Section 8 administrative plan for each Section 8 agency.  The lease must include all charges, including any administrative fees, pet fees, storage/garage/parking fees, deposits, etc unless the HAP provider specifically authorizes in writing that the parties may enter into a separate addendum for special charges (note that current Quadel Phoenix appears to be permitting this type of addendum).  A landlord is prohibited from entering into any other arrangements with the voucher recipient that has not been fully disclosed and approved by the agency.  This means that all side deals, even if offered by the tenant, are illegal and not enforceable.

Landlords are encouraged to seek legal counsel and set appropriate policies for handling housing-choice voucher applicants as well as ensuring that their leases are compliant with both state and federal law. Additionally, all three of the cities that require mandatory participation in the voucher programs provide free educational information on their websites.

About the author:

Denise Holliday is the managing partner of Hull, Holliday & Holliday, PLC and has been engaged in landlord/tenant law practice since 1996. She is a certified instructor for the Arizona Department of Real Estate, Arizona Association of Realtors, Property Management Institute, and National Association of Real Property Managers.

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