How to Become a Section 8 Housing Landlord
July 5, 2023
We’d love to connect with you.
The Steps To Becoming A Section 8 Housing Landlord
As a landlord, you may have heard opinions about the Section 8 program from other investors and property managers. You may be wary of the government red tape involved in the program, worry about the potential risks involved, or wonder why you should accept Section 8 tenants at all.
However, renting to Section 8 families can offer landlords many benefits, including long-term stability, reliable payments, and regular rent increases, which are attractive features to any investor. If your interest has been piqued, read on to learn how to become a Section 8 housing landlord and reap these benefits yourself.
What is Section 8?
Section 8, initially part of the Housing Act of 1937, provides government funding to local housing authorities to pay landlords on behalf of low-income families, the elderly, and people with disabilities. These housing authorities receive HUD funds to distribute as vouchers to those who cannot afford to pay market rates for decent, safe, and sanitary housing.
The Section 8 program is a federal program, but it is administered locally, so the processes and procedures may be slightly different from county to county. Section 8 income limits also vary by location—most families need to make less than 50% of the local median income to qualify for the program and only those who make less than 30% are given priority. The program gives these families access to private housing while still serving landlords’ interests, mainly by establishing affordable rates for families (typically around 30% of their income) while covering the remaining amount of fair market rent by paying landlords directly.
How to Become a Section 8 Housing Landlord
A Section 8 housing landlord is any landlord who rents units to Section 8 tenants. The process to become one is relatively simple, but there are some hoops to jump through first. Namely, you’ll need to fill out some paperwork and get your property inspected annually.
Step 1: Research Your Local PHA’s Program
Before you accept any Section 8 tenants, your first task is to thoroughly research the program and learn about your role in it. Section 8 is administered locally by public housing agencies (PHAs), whose websites should have information about the program and how to get started. You can find your local PHA by using this helpful tool from the HUD.
Some general Section 8 landlord requirements include:
- You must provide decent, safe, and sanitary housing
- You must resolve maintenance issues quickly and maintain general upkeep
- Your rental must meet basic minimum housing quality standards
- The rental must be ready for occupancy
- The rental must satisfy all building and housing codes
Step 2: Market Your Properties as Section 8-Friendly
Once you’ve decided to rent to Section 8 tenants, you need to get the word out about it. You can often list your properties with your local PHA, who can connect you with eligible renters in the area who might be interested in your property. It’s also a good idea to list your rental(s) for free on Affordablehousing.com.
However, you can also advertise your units as you normally would—by listing them on listing sites or using your property management software listing syndication service to post your listings on as many platforms as possible. Be sure to mention that your units are Section 8-friendly and that you do not discriminate based on source of income.
Step 3: Screen Section 8 Tenants as Usual
When a Section 8 tenant applies to your property, they will inform you that they have a voucher (also known as a Housing Choice Voucher, or an HCV). Although the PHA does basic background checks on eligible tenants who apply to the program, you should still conduct your full tenant screening process as you would for any other tenant. You determine your own criteria, and you have the right to deny any tenant who doesn’t meet them.
Keep in mind that some states protect tenants from discrimination based on their ‘source of income,’ which includes housing vouchers. In these states, it may be illegal to deny a tenant solely on the basis of their status as a Section 8 participant. You can, of course, still deny a Section 8 tenant for having irresponsible credit, criminal convictions, or a prior eviction record.
When screening income and verifying paystubs, remember that tenants are usually only expected to pay around 30% of their adjusted gross income toward their housing costs (rent and utilities). The voucher will cover the other 70%. However, sometimes a family can talk with a case worker at the PHA to increase the voucher amount.
Step 4: Fill Out a Request for Tenancy Approval Form
Once you accept a Section 8 tenant, you’ll need to submit a Request for Tenancy Approval Form (RFTA form). This HUD form is essentially an application to become a Section 8 housing landlord for a particular voucher family. Here’s what you’ll need:
- The name of the PHA
- The rental unit’s address
- Lease details, including the start date, number of bedrooms, year constructed, and building type
- Your proposed rent rate, security deposit amount
- The date the unit will be available for a Section 8 inspection
- A breakdown of which utilities the landlord and tenant will pay, respectively
- Information about your other recently leased comparable unassisted units to ensure that the proposed rate is not more than what the rent would typically be
- Your signature and that of the Section 8 household’s head
You may also be required to provide the following at this time:
- Your direct deposit information
- A completed W-9 form
Step 5: Schedule a Section 8 Property Inspection
Once your RFTA form has been accepted, your next step is to schedule an inspection. A local PHA official will visit your property to ensure that the unit meets the HUD’s Housing Quality Standards (HQS) before a voucher family can be allowed to live in it.
Before the inspection, the PHA can request that you turn the utilities on and be present for the review. The PHA official uses this checklist from the HUD to review the unit’s major systems and essential services, including:
- Lead-based paint hazards
- Kitchen and bathroom presence with proper appliances, fixtures, and sinks
- Electricity and electrical hazards
- Conditions of the windows, walls, floors, and ceiling
- Smoke detectors
- Security (locks on doors and windows)
- Condition of the building’s foundation, stairs, rails, porches, roof, gutters, chimney, and other exterior surfaces
- Adequate and safe heating and cooling
- Water heater and water supply
- Plumbing and sewer connection
- Accessibility and fire exits
- Pest infestation
- Garbage and debris disposal
- Indoor air quality
While this may seem like a lot, most of these criteria simply serve to verify that the property meets local health, building, housing, and safety codes that you are required to maintain anyway. The inspector will also ensure that the unit has appropriate square footage for the size of the family and that it meets all the family’s needs (including accessibility issues for members with disabilities).
After the inspection, you will be informed whether the unit passed or failed. If the unit failed, you will be told what needs to be fixed or modified before reinspection.
Step 6: Negotiate Rent Price with PHA
Once your property has passed the Section 8 inspection, it’s now time to finalize the rent rate. The PHA will most likely perform a “rent reasonableness” assessment to determine whether your asking rate is a reasonable number based on comparable properties in the current market. If it isn’t, you’ll be asked to reduce your rate to a “reasonable” amount (which you’re free to refuse).
PHAs also use what’s called Fair Market Rents (FMRs) to determine a standard and initial baseline for HCV rents. FMRs are adjusted annually by the HUD, and they generally fall at the 40th percentile for gross rents of standard quality units within a particular area. You can use this tool to estimate the FMR for your area and get an idea of what number the PHA will likely bring in to start with.
Your job is to secure as high a rate as possible, while the PHA’s job is to make sure the voucher family can afford to pay their portion. Generally, voucher families pay around 30% of the monthly rent price, while their subsidy covers the rest. Both parties need to agree on the rent in order to move forward (but keep in mind that PHAs typically offer generous rent increases each year).
Step 7: Sign a HAP Contract
Once a rate has been agreed on, the landlord signs an official contract with the PHA, known as a Housing Assistance Payments (or HAP) Contract. This contract is an agreement between you and the PHA that guarantees that you’ll receive the voucher amount directly from the PHA each month by direct deposit as long as you house the family, maintain the property up to code, and keep the rent reasonable.
Step 8: Receive Voucher Each Month
Now, you’re all set to move in your new tenant! The Section 8 family will move in on the agreed-upon date and pay their portion of the rent as normal each month. The PHA will send you the remaining rent due by direct deposit each month, guaranteeing a steady stream of at least 70% of the family’s rent each month for as long as they live there. Generally, Section 8 families have great incentive to keep paying their portion, as failing to do so will endanger their eligibility for the Section 8 program.
Step 9: Keep the Property Up to Code
As you rent to the family, it’s your job to keep the property up to code. This means responding to maintenance requests promptly, regularly inspecting the unit, and performing preventative maintenance as you would for any other unit. Voucher families know that they’ll lose their subsidy if they are evicted from the property, so many keep the units clean and treat them gently. Remember that a PHA official will return to reinspect the unit each year to ensure it’s still up to code.
Becoming a Section 8 landlord may seem like a lot of work—and it does take some initial dedication and patience as you fill out the necessary forms and work with the PHA. However, those landlords who take the time to do so can benefit from much needed stability and play a rewarding role in providing safe, affordable housing for low-income families.