How to Find Landlords That Accept Housing Vouchers
Many renters know that finding affordable housing is tricky these days. Rent prices are up more than 20 percent compared to this time last year.
As a result, many low-income families turn to housing vouchers to help cover the cost of the rent. More than 5 million households use federal rental assistance through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Section 8 program, and about 70 percent of those individuals are older people, children and people with disabilities.
Still, many renters may not know where to look to find private landlords that accept housing vouchers. Here are some tips, along with an overview of what housing vouchers are and who's eligible to receive them.
What are U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) housing vouchers?
HUD's Housing Choice Voucher Program, also known as Section 8, helps low-income people afford homes to rent, whether it's an apartment, single-family house or townhouse.
A public housing agency (PHA) administers the housing choice voucher. But, it's up to low-income families to find rentals and private landlords that accept vouchers.
A private landlord receives a payment from the PHA on behalf of the renter participating in the Section 8 program. Tenants pay the difference between the rent payment and what the voucher covers.
The program benefits private landlords and tenants. Landlords receive a voucher for fair market rates, while a tenant can find rental housing that better fits within their budget.
How do you qualify for Section 8 vouchers?
Public housing agencies determine eligibility for Section 8 vouchers based on a household's income and the number of family members living in the home. The rental assistance applies only to U.S. citizens and specific non-citizen groups. There are also financial requirements to qualify.
Financial requirements for Section 8
To be eligible, a family can't earn more than 50 percent of the area's median income. The local housing authority is also required by the federal housing program to offer 75 percent of its housing choice vouchers to people with incomes not exceeding 30 percent of the local median income.
Waiting lists for Section 8
There are often waiting lists to access housing vouchers, usually a few months but sometimes longer. The length of a waiting list depends on location.
The housing authorities will contact you once you reach the top of the list. Then it's time to find apartments and other rental property that take Section 8.
How do Section 8 vouchers work?
Low-income individuals and families have a choice in housing. Once the PHA selects someone for the federal housing program, they select the type of rental that best meets their needs but that also accepts the housing choice voucher.
There are two types of housing choice vouchers: project-based vouchers and tenant-based vouchers. Project-based vouchers must use specific housing developments. You can use tenant-based vouchers for any home, as long as the owner will accept the voucher and the property meets the program requirements.
When renters find houses or other suitable property where the private landlord accepts the voucher and works out the terms of a lease agreement, the housing and urban development agency inspects the home to make sure the landlord is asking for a reasonable payment.
The voucher covers part of the rent amount, based on how much renters can afford.
How to find affordable housing that accepts vouchers?
Once you've been approved for the program, the next step is to find houses and apartments that accept Section 8 vouchers. And, this is tough, depending on where you live.
Tips to find apartments and other rentals that take Section 8
To find apartments and other rentals owned by private landlords that accept Section 8 vouchers, follow these steps:
- Start with your local PHA, which can point you in the direction of property owners that accept vouchers. The Department of Housing and Urban Development website lists PHA contact information by state.
- Check with your local HUD office to apply for the program and to learn about rentals that accept vouchers.
- Ask friends and family members for recommendations for private landlords that accept vouchers.
- Search Rentals.com to find properties in your area. You can filter your search to find "income-restricted" rentals.
Do landlords have to accept housing vouchers?
Section 8 allows private landlords to accept housing vouchers and rent to low-income people at a fair market rate. The PHA signs a lease with private landlords and pays a piece of the rent, while tenants must pay the difference.
However, private landlords are not required to accept Section 8 vouchers and participate in the program, under federal law. Some states require private landlords to accept vouchers.
Connecticut, Maryland and Massachusetts are states where landlords can't refuse to rent to tenants who are eligible for Section 8, according to the American Apartments Owners Association.
Can Section 8 vouchers be used anywhere?
Not all private landlords accept Section 8. Many apartments and houses around the country will accept Section 8 — as long as they meet the federal government's rules and regulations.
Private landlords screen renters
Whether it's apartments or a single-family home, a landlord still screens renters when they accept Section 8. This usually focuses on a background check and credit check to learn about the individual's criminal history and rental history.
The Section 8 program verifies a renter's income before approving them for the program.
HUD must approve apartments and other rentals
To accept Section 8, private landlords must have their apartments and other properties approved by HUD. A Section 8 renter can't live there otherwise.
A landlord will submit a tenancy request with HUD that includes the address of the apartments or other rental properties, projected lease start date, the tenant's rent and any included utilities.
Rental properties must pass an inspection
Apartments and other rentals that accept Section 8 must pass an inspection by HUD and the local PHA.
HUD stipulates minimum housing standards, which you must to accept Section 8. The standards focus on safety, security and the condition of the property. Private landlords must guarantee that apartments and other rentals will protect the health, safety and security of their residents.
Section 8 authorities inspect the home once a year. Private landlords must pass inspections to continue to accept Section 8.
Follow the lease
Just like with any other renter, private landlords must follow the lease agreement when they accept Section 8. That means private landlords must handle repairs and maintenance, as stated in the lease.
Section 8 renters also must comply with the lease, including paying their portion of the rent payment on time and following other rules and regulations.
Inform HUD of rent increases
Private landlords can raise the rent for Section 8 apartments and houses. They just need to inform their local HUD office in advance.
However, private landlords must charge Section 8 renters the same as other renters for comparable apartments. And, they can only raise the rent once a year.
Abide by fair housing rules
Federal fair housing laws protect renters from discrimination when renting a home, including Section 8 rentals.
Fair housing prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status and disability.
What is the most Section 8 will pay?
The Section 8 program determines how much to pay private landlords based on several factors, including how much apartments and houses typically rent for in the area, and the PHA determines the maximum amount they'll pay.
The exact amount the government pays for Section 8 varies based on where the property is, but the amount is usually 90 to 110 percent of the fair market rate.
Renters who receive Section 8 must contribute to their rent, as well. How much also varies, but it's often 30 percent of their adjusted monthly income or 10 percent of their monthly gross income, whichever is greater.
Renters pay their portion directly to the private landlords that accept Section 8.
While Section 8 pays part of the rent to make finding a place to live much more affordable, it doesn't cover everything. Renters still have to pay their security deposits.
How to apply for Section 8 vouchers?
To apply for Section 8, contact your local PHA office or HUD office.
The Section 8 application process involves providing personal details, like name, Social Security number and income. The PHA will verify your monthly income with your employer and determine whether you're eligible and the amount of Section 8 funds you'll receive in housing assistance.
After approval, you may get wait listed. Then, it will be time to landlords who will accept housing vouchers.
What to know about Section 8
Section 8 is a huge help to many renters struggling to find a place that they can afford. Under the program, the government pays a portion of your rent. You just need to find homes that accept the voucher.
The best ways to find Section 8 rentals are to check with the PHA in your area and search sites like Rentals.com, where you can filter "income-restricted" properties. This will help you find houses and apartments that meet your family's needs and that are well within your budget.