Landlord Q & A

When you become a Housing Choice Voucher Program participating landlord, you not only make it possible for more people to rent a home, you fill your empty housing units while also receiving a guaranteed monthly rental payment. 

Although the Housing Choice Voucher Program may seem a bit confusing and overwhelming on the surface, it is a fairly simple program. Here's a look at the top questions asked by landlords who want to know more about the Housing Choice Voucher Program. 

Q: What is the Housing Choice Voucher Program? 

A: The Housing Choice Voucher Program, commonly known as Section 8, is a housing assistance program designed to help low-income families, the elderly and persons with disabilities. Although the program is funded through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), it is operated at the local level through public housing authorities. In Harford County, that is Harford County Housing and Community Services (HCHCS). 

Through the Housing Choice Voucher Program, families are provided with vouchers that can be used to help pay for the rent on the home of their choosing. HCHCS makes monthly payments to the owner of the property on behalf of the family, but the family is responsible for paying the remaining monthly balance on its own. 

Rental units must meet HUD Housing Quality Standards and must pass inspection before they can qualify for the program. The family is responsible for finding the accommodations and for negotiating the terms of the lease. If the property passes an inspection and meets HUD Housing Quality Standards, HCHCS will then sign a contract with the landlord. 

Q: Why would a landlord want to participate in the Housing Choice Voucher Program? 

A: Landlords who participate in the Housing Choice Voucher Program enjoy rent security in terms of the portion that is paid by the Housing Agency. Accepting program participants also helps keep vacancies low while providing landlords with good residents to fill their empty units. 

Q: What type of housing units can participate in the Housing Choice Voucher Program? 

A: The Housing Choice Voucher Program provides rental assistance for apartments, single-family attached and detached homes, condos and duplexes. 

Q: Are restrictions placed on where program participants may seek housing? 

A: Program participants are initially restricted to finding housing within the geographic location that is serviced by a particular housing agency. HCHCS participants must rent in Harford County. In addition, the neighborhood must be one that is not subject to dangerous stairs, walks, flooding, instability, septic tank backups, poor drainage, mud slides, sewage hazards, smoke or dust, abnormal air pollution, vermin infestations, excessive accumulation of trash or fire hazards. 

Q. What are the items that most commonly cause a unit to fail inspection? 

A. The list below highlights some of the common violations found during inspection. The items on this list must be working or completed prior to inspection: 

  • Paint on the exterior walls of the unit, five feet high and below, must not be chipping or peeling.
  • Cooking stove must be clean and in working order (either the tenant or the owner must provide). 
  • Refrigerator must be clean and in working order (either the tenant or the owner must provide). 
  • There must be an installed heating system that works. 
  • There must be hot and cold running water in the kitchen. 
  • There must be hot and cold running water in the bathroom. 
  • There must be a shower or bathtub that works. 
  • There must be a flush toilet that works and does not leak. 
  • Bathrooms must have either a window to the outside OR an exhaust fan. 
  • There must not be any plumbing leaks. 
  • There must not be any plugged drains (check for slow drains). 
  • All ground floor windows must have attached locks, and exterior doors must have locks, including working deadbolts. 
  • All electrical outlets must have cover plates and be in good condition. 
  • There must not be any missing, broken or cracked windows. 
  • The roof must not leak (check the ceiling for stains). 
  • The hot water heater tank MUST have a temperature pressure relief valve with a downward discharge pipe made of galvanized steel or copper tubing that is 3 feet long (NO PVC). 
  • The floor covering cannot be torn or have holes that can cause someone to trip. 
  • Stairs and railings must be secure. 
  • Working smoke detectors are required in every unit and on every level. 

Q: Are there limitations placed on rental amounts? 

A: HCHCS performs rent reasonableness surveys to determine a reasonable rate for the area and to ensure the rent is comparable to that being paid by those who are not involved in the program. Additionally, a unit will not be approved if the rental cost is more than 40% of the tenant's income. 

Q: Are landlords required to lease to people who have housing agency vouchers? 

A: No. As a landlord, you have the freedom to rent to whomever you like, so long as you are not discriminating against potential tenants based on color, race, religion, sex, familial status, national origin, or source of income. HCHCS does not require landlords to house families involved in the program. 

Q: Does the housing agency screen families? 

A: HCHCS determines program eligibility and conducts a criminal background check. You may, and are encouraged to, conduct a further screening process. So long as you require all potential tenants to complete an application and screening process, you are fully within your rights as a landlord. 

Q: Are landlords expected to treat program participants differently from those who are not receiving assistance? 

A: No. Program participants are expected to abide by the same regulations as unassisted tenants. 

Q: Are landlords required to accept pets through the Housing Choice Voucher Program? 

A: No. Whether you accept pets is up to you. 

Q: Who pays the security deposit? 

A: Tenants are required to pay their own security deposits. Your security deposit must be the same amount you charge unassisted tenants. 

Q: Is the landlord required to pay for the utilities? 

A: The landlord is not responsible for paying the tenant's utilities, though the tenant must have an electric, gas and water meter that is separate from other tenants. If the tenant is responsible for paying the utilities, the utilities must be transferred to the tenant's name. 

Q: Are program participants allowed to rent furnished apartments? 

A: Yes, though HCHCS may only subsidize for the rental unit. In this case, the tenant may need to contract the furnishings separately. 

Q: What kind of paperwork is involved with the program? 

A: Once you have reached an agreement with a potential candidate, you will need to complete a Request for Tenancy Approval form. This form requests basic information, such as the address of the unit, the monthly rental fee and the utilities the tenant will be required to pay. You will also be required to negotiate a lease agreement with the potential client. After your unit has passed inspection, you will be required to sign a contract with HCHCS. Your lease will not be binding until after the unit has passed inspection and you have signed a contract with HCHCS. 

Q: How involved is the Housing Agency with the tenant/landlord relationship? 

A: HCHCS encourages landlords and tenants to resolve issues on their own, but will provide assistance if the landlord or the tenant are experiencing problems. In addition, mediation services are available through the HCHCS. 

Q: When does the landlord receive rental payments from the Housing Agency? 

A: The first payment may take up to two weeks to process. Thereafter, HCHCS makes every effort to get payments to the landlord by the first of each month. All payments are made through direct deposit. A schedule of monthly payment dates is available on the HCHCS website. 

Q: Am I able to evict a tenant if necessary? 

A. Yes. You may evict a tenant who is participating in the Housing Choice Voucher Program, so long as you provide proper legal notice. You must also provide HCHCS with a copy of the initial eviction notice once the process has been started. To evict the tenant, you must abide by all local and state eviction laws. Legal reasons for eviction include failure to pay rent, causing damage beyond normal wear and tear and illegal use of the unit. 

Q: What are the responsibilities of the landlord through the Housing Choice Voucher Program? 

A: As the landlord, you will be responsible for screening your tenants and for selecting the family you will rent your unit out to. You will also be responsible for performing all management and renting functions as well as performing all necessary maintenance. If you are supplying utilities to the unit, you will also be responsible for the utility payments. In addition, you are responsible for complying with the Housing Assistance Payment Voucher Contract as well as with the lease you have with your tenant. 

Q: What are the responsibilities of the tenant through the Housing Choice Voucher Program? 

A: Families participating in the Housing Choice Voucher Program are responsible for finding suitable housing and for providing HCHCS with the income and family information needed to verify and certify program eligibility. This information must be provided at least on an annual basis in order to maintain eligibility. Families participating in the program are also responsible for repairing any damage they cause to the unit and must allow HCHCS to inspect the unit. Finally, families must abide by the obligations as defined by the Housing Choice Voucher, which includes abiding by the lease. 

Q: What are the responsibilities of HCHCS through the Housing Choice Voucher Program? 

A: HCHCS is responsible for processing the certification and re-certification application, for inspecting the unit, for approving the lease and for executing the Housing Assistance Payment Contract. HCHCS is also responsible for determining the amount of assistance to be provided and for making payments to the landlord on behalf of the tenant. Finally, HCHCS is responsible for monitoring the program and making certain everyone involved is in compliance with federal, state and local regulations.