Housing Choice Voucher tenants (or “Section 8 Program tenants”) are common in many jurisdictions in Northern Virginia. It is a federally funded and locally administered program to help low income families, the elderly and people with disabilities obtain safe and affordable housing from private landlords. A landlord usually first becomes aware of the program when a potential renter calls up asking “Do you accept housing vouchers or Section 8?”. The question is – should you?
Well, I would say it depends on you. Some landlords actively seek out Housing Choice Voucher tenants while others are less open to the idea. Yet others are totally against it for their rentals.
Apart from a landlord maybe having bad personal experiences with voucher tenants, there may also be philosophical reservations. Some may look at supporting the housing voucher program as helping someone in need as well as a civic duty (many voucher families have young children.) Others may feel it is a system with potential for abuse that also creates dependency.
In Virginia you are (still) allowed to discriminate based on source of income in most if not all jurisdictions as far as I know. Hence your personal thoughts on this can and is used to allow or disallow housing voucher tenants (in other areas, like Washington DC, you are not allowed to discriminate based on income source as long as the tenant otherwise qualifies.)
While a housing voucher guarantees payment of all or part of your rent there are some things to be aware of:
- The voucher amount is the maximum rental price of a unit the tenant can rent. The voucher amount typically assumes the landlord pays for all the utilities. If you do not pay for utilities, the maximum rental amount may be adjusted downward.
- The tenant could have their portion change or they could loose the support altogether. Also, the voucher is reviewed periodically and the total amount eligible amount could change based on changes in dependents etc. You may want to add something in the lease as to what will happen if the support is changed or lost.
- The tenant is usually responsible for part of the rent – it could be 10% or 30% or any amount. The tenant portion may change throughout the voucher period if their income changes.
- The housing authority has little or no obligation or responsibility beyond their portion of the rent. If the tenant damages your property or stops paying their portion it is your responsibility to deal with it on your own for the most part. The housing authority could terminate the housing voucher support for the tenant. But they wouldn’t reimburse you for damages and you would have to evict if the tenant is unwilling or unable to pay or break the lease in some other way.
- The housing authority has to approve your property – your property has to meet Housing Quality Standards. Screens on all windows, bedrooms have to qualify as bedrooms etc.
- The housing authority will do regular inspections and may require timely repairs to things like chipping paint, broken window screens, inoperable smoke detectors etc.
- You cannot increase the rent as you wish – the housing authority has to approve the initial rent and any increases thereafter. You will have to support any increase and rental amount with rents in the area and may or may not get any increase approved.
Some possible recommendations:
- Be careful paying utilities. There is no incentives for the tenant to conserve water, electricity or gas if you do. If the tenants leave the hose running all day in the summer you are responsible. If they take two hour hot showers or invite their friends over to do laundry all weekend, you are responsible. If the toilet is running for months and they don’t tell you, you are responsible for the water bill (proving otherwise will be hard and expensive.) This advice would go for any tenant, housing voucher or not – do not pay for utilities!
- Check rental references, credit and verify sufficient income for the tenants portion of the rent.
- Address in the lease what happens if the tenant looses the voucher support.
- Do not require or accept any money above the maximum voucher amount unless you are sure you are allowed to do so. Do not accept any money or make any secret deals “under the table” that the housing authority is unaware of.
- If the tenants are acceptable and qualify, you can charge whatever security deposit you would normally charge (but no more than 2 months rent. ) The tenant pays the security deposit, not the housing authority.
- Keep in mind that the current landlord may have an incentive to get rid of the tenants. They may be planning to sell the home or just want to get rid of a trouble tenant. A distressed landlord may say anything to get rid of a bad tenant. So, the tenant prior to the current one will likely be a better person to depend on. This advice applies to any tenant, housing voucher or not.
A Section 8/Husing Voucher tenant may make a wonderful and longterm tenant. But, as with any tenant you want to make sure you are aware of the particularities up front and do your background checks like you would any other. As income and credit may be spotty, checking the rental references thoroughly will help ensure you get tenants that will care for your home. Driving by their current rental home or doing a home visit may give you an indication on how they will do as tenants.