The Housing Choice Voucher Program (commonly known as Section 8) is a federally funded program providing monthly rental assistance to very low income tenants renting units in the private market. The rental assistance is provided through a local housing authority.
Myths about the Section 8 program continue to prevent Section 8 participants from finding landlords willing to rent to them. Below is a list of common misconceptions about the program to help you make a more informed decision about whether to give a Section 8 tenant a chance.
Myth: Section 8 tenants are problem tenants.
Fact: Most Section 8 tenants live in the same place over a long period of time (7-8 years on average). You should screen a Section 8 tenant the same way you screen all other tenants. By conducting thorough and consistent screening, you are less likely to end up with a problem tenant, Section 8 or otherwise.
Myth: If you accept one Section 8 tenant, then all your units must be rented to Section 8 tenants.
Fact: If you own multiple units, you may choose to have one or more of your units occupied by Section 8 tenants. Just because you accept one Section 8 tenant does not mean that you have to rent your next available unit to a Section 8 tenant. If a Section 8 tenant moves out, you are not required to rent the vacant unit to another Section 8 tenant.
Myth: The landlord is responsible for a lot of paperwork.
Fact: Most of the paperwork the landlord is required to complete is at the beginning of a new lease. This paperwork includes the Request for Tenancy Approval form, W-9 form, Lead Warning Statement and Lease Agreement. The Housing Authority will assist with completion of these documents if needed. From time to time, the landlord will receive letters, amending the rent portions, inspection reports, newsletters, and other program materials. The landlord does not need to complete these forms.
Myth: You cannot evict a Section 8 tenant.
Fact: If a Section 8 tenant has violated your lease agreement, you may evict the tenant in accordance with State law. Please note that if you want a tenant to move after the initial term of the lease but do not want to state the cause for the termination of tenancy, then you must give the Section 8 tenant a 90-day written notice. When a notice without cause is issued, the Housing Authority will provide the tenant with a new voucher to relocate.
Myth: The Housing Authority has very tough inspection requirements.
Fact: The Housing Authority inspects the unit before a contract is signed with the landlord and annually or bi-annually thereafter. The Housing Authority checks the unit for any health and/or safety problems. The Section 8 inspection is not a code enforcement inspection. The Housing Authority checks the working order of smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors, water heaters, appliances, exits, window and door locks, fans, outlets, plumbing fixtures, heaters, and light fixtures. The presence of trip and fall hazards, structural defects, rodents or roaches, peeling paint, excessive dirt or clutter, broken windows and the like are also checked. These are all items that most landlords would want to inspect themselves before renting a unit.
Myth: Evicting problem tenants on Section 8 does not accomplish anything.
Fact: The tenant may lose their Section 8 Voucher if they are evicted for lease violations. This ensures that problem tenants are not recycled to other unsuspecting landlords and acts as an incentive for participants to comply with their leases in order to continue participation in the program. Once a participant loses their Section 8 assistance, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to get back on the program.
Myth: Section 8 tenants are all on welfare and do not contribute to society.
Fact: Section 8 tenants come from all walks of life. In California, 61% of Section 8 participants are elderly or disabled, and 33% of Section 8 households are wage earners. Most housing authorities offer participants a chance to participate in the Family Self Sufficiency (FSS) Program. The goal of FSS is to assist participants with obtaining the education and skills they need to secure high wage jobs, start their own businesses, move off of assisted housing, and become homeowners.
Myth: The landlord cannot raise the rent.
Fact: Landlords may raise the rent for a Section 8 tenant after the initial lease term with proper written notice to the tenant and the housing authority. The housing authority does not have a pre-determined annual percentage rent increase. The rent increase requested must be reasonable when compared with similar units in the neighborhood. For multi-unit buildings, the rent for the Section 8 unit cannot be the highest rent in the building.
Section 8 vouchers help low-income people in your community afford a decent place to live. Without landlord participation in the program, more people would be forced to live in overcrowded and unsafe conditions or on the streets. For more information about how you can benefit from being a Section 8 landlord, please contact your local housing authority. To locate your housing authority, visit the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development website at https://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/states/california/renting.
Kristin Maithonis, is Housing Manager for the City of Norwalk Housing Authority and former President of the California Association of Housing Authorities.