Recently, a landlord visited me and said that he wanted his Section 8 tenant to move out because her boyfriend, who was not included in the lease, was living in the unit. He was unhappy to learn that, as the landlord, he is responsible for enforcing the lease and that the housing authority could not evict or physically remove the tenant for him.
Over the course of my career working with the Section 8 program (Housing Choice Voucher Program), I have learned that landlords who take the time to understand everyone’s roles and responsibilities are more likely to be satisfied as our most important business partners.
The housing authority’s role in the Section 8 landlord-tenant relationship is simple. The housing authority must:
- Determine whether tenants are eligible for the program;
- Pay the housing authority’s portion of the rent to the landlord;
- Inspect the unit to ensure that healthy and safe conditions are maintained;
- Monitor tenant and landlord compliance with the rules;
- Recertify tenant’s ongoing eligibility; and
- Re-inspect the unit on a periodic basis (annually or once every two years).
The housing authority does not take over management duties of the Section 8 unit and is not a party to the lease agreement between the landlord and tenant.
In reality, a Section 8 landlord’s responsibilities are not that different from a landlord who does not have a Section 8 tenant. Both Section 8 and non-Section 8 landlords must:
- Abide by and actively enforce their lease agreements;
- Screen applicants for suitability;
- Collect the rent;
- Observe fair housing laws;
- Maintain the unit and premises; and
- Make repairs in a timely manner.
Similarly, both Section 8 and non-Section 8 tenants have some of the same responsibilities, which include:
- Paying a security deposit;
- Complying with the lease;
- Paying the rent on-time;
- Not causing damages to the unit; and
- Giving proper notice of intent to vacate.
However, a Section 8 tenant has even more responsibilities than the average tenant and a lot more to lose if they don’t observe the rules. The tenant must comply with their Family Obligations under the Section 8 program, which are enforced by the housing authority. Some of these Family Obligations include:
- Allowing the housing authority to inspect the unit;
- Reporting changes of income and family composition to the housing authority;
- Complying with the landlord’s lease;
- Maintaining tenant-paid utilities;
- Not engaging in criminal or drug related activity; and
- Not being absent from the unit for a prolonged period of time.
Failure by the tenant to comply with their Family Obligations under the program may result in termination of their Section 8 rental assistance.
So, you may be wondering about the tenant with the unauthorized household member. Why doesn’t the housing authority enforce the Family Obligations against the tenant? Here is what I told the landlord. We will open an investigation. If our investigation confirms the presence of an unauthorized household member in the assisted-unit, we will proceed with termination of the tenant’s Section 8 rental assistance. However, termination of the tenant’s Section 8 assistance is not the same as an eviction and does not mean that the tenant will move out. In fact, the tenant might remain in the unit and not be able to pay the full rent without the Section 8 assistance. If this happens, the landlord will now have two problems. Now he will have to deal with the unauthorized household member as well as non-payment of rent.
In this case, the solution is for the landlord to enforce the lease just as s/he would if the tenant were not receiving Section 8. If eviction becomes necessary, the housing authority will continue to pay our housing authority’s portion to the landlord until the lock-out date. Once the tenant is out of the unit, the housing authority will terminate the tenant’s Section 8 assistance for failure to comply with the lease.
This story is meant to illustrate how understanding everyone’s roles and responsibilities is important for a landlord’s success and is not intended to imply that all Section 8 tenants are problem tenants. In fact, most Section 8 tenants are good, long-term tenants, who do not wish to jeopardize their housing and their Section 8 rental assistance.
Kristin Maithonis is the Housing Manager for the Norwalk Housing Authority and chairs the Landlord Outreach Committee for the California Association of Housing Authorities (CAHA) Southern Chapter. For more information, call (562) 929-5653 or email [email protected]