How to Evict a Section 8 Tenant
July 5, 2023
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The Section 8 Eviction Process
Many landlords choose to participate in the Section 8 program and take advantage of the assured rent subsidy payments the program offers.
But what happens when a tenancy established through this program doesn’t work out? Whether the tenant seriously damaged the property, stopped paying their portion of the rent, or is simply no longer eligible for the subsidy, it’s sometimes necessary to pursue eviction. And because Section 8 tenants receive their housing as part of a government program, you must follow not only state and local procedures for eviction, but also HUD regulations.
In this article, we review the steps of eviction for Section 8 tenants and what your responsibilities as a landlord are during the process.
Note: This article is based on Chapter 8 of the HUD’s Housing Choice Voucher Program Guidebook. Call your local public housing agency or visit their site for more information about terminating a Section 8 tenancy in your area.
#1 Identify a Legal Reason for Eviction
Like all evictions, the first step in a Section 8 eviction is to identify a justifiable cause.
The HUD is quite clear about what constitutes an “allowable circumstance for terminating tenancy” for Section 8 participants. Landlords may begin the termination process for:
- Material noncompliance, defined as:
- Substantial lease violations
- Repeated minor violations
- Nonpayment of rent
- Drug abuse or other criminal activity
- Material failure to carry out obligations under a State Landlord and Tenant Act
- Other good cause (by state/local law)
Let’s take a look at these circumstances in more detail.
The first cause on this list, ‘material noncompliance’ is another term for a lease violation. Examples of material noncompliance include:
- Failure to submit required information on household income and composition in time (e.g., citizenship status, SSNs)
- Extended absence or abandonment of the unit
- Fraud, or knowingly providing inaccurate or incomplete information to the landlord or PHA, such as misrepresenting income (Note: By contrast, ‘tenant errors’ – infractions or oversights that were not intentionally deceptive— are not a basis for eviction).
- Repeated minor violations that disrupt livability; negatively affect the health, safety, or right of peaceful enjoyment of another person; interfere with property management, or cost the property money (e.g., Failing to pay utilities, having unauthorized occupants, damaging the property, etc.)
- Nonpayment of rent. (Note: Repeatedly missing the rent due date but paying within the grace period is considered a minor violation.)
Drug Abuse and Criminal Activity
‘Drug abuse and other criminal activity’ is a broad category that covers a variety of violations. You can terminate a Section 8 tenancy for:
- Any criminal activity that threatens the health, safety, or right to peaceful enjoyment of other residents, property management staff, or neighbors.
- Illegal drug use
- Alcohol abuse, when it threatens the health, safety, or peaceful enjoyment of others
- Fleeing to avoid prosecution, confinement, or conviction for a crime
- Attempting to commit a felony crime
- Violating a condition of probation or parole
It can sometimes be difficult to determine whether a tenant’s behavior constitutes just cause for eviction. In general, when terminating a tenancy for drug or criminal activity, you should consider the following factors:
- The severity of the action
- Its effect on other household members and the community
- The extent of the tenant’s participation and personal responsibility taken
- The demand for Section 8 housing by families who will follow the lease
- The effect of your action on the program’s integrity
Material Failure to Carry Out Obligations under a State or Local Landlord and Tenant Act
Failure to comply with local law is also a justifiable reason for eviction. For example, a tenant might violate local law by exceeding the occupancy limit for the unit and overcrowding a unit as per local housing code. Damages to the unit that interfere with its compliance with local building and housing codes also constitutes a justifiable reason for eviction.
Your responsibility as a landlord while determining the cause for eviction is to:
1) Adhere to the termination criteria as equitably as possible.
2) Enforce the lease rules and initiate eviction if they are not fulfilled to protect the health, safety, and peaceful enjoyment of other tenants.
In general, all eviction actions must be consistent with federal, state, and local laws, including civil rights protections, fair housing, and equal opportunity laws. Be sure to review your state’s Landlord Tenant Act (especially those on eviction) online, with the rest of its statutes. You are required to establish that the basis for eviction is consistent with three different sources:
- HUD-required lease provisions
- Other lease provisions in the rental agreement
- State and local laws
#2 Send the Section 8 Tenant an Eviction Notice
After you’ve identified a basis for the eviction, the next step is to send a Section 8 termination notice. Just like any other eviction, you must let the tenant know that you intend to terminate their tenancy via formal notice. The length of the notice will vary based on the law in your state, but it should generally include:
- The date the tenancy will end
- The rental amount due (for nonpayment cases)
- The reason for the eviction, with enough detail so the tenant can prepare a defense
- A warning stating that staying in the unit past the end date may result in court enforcement
- An advisory that the tenant has 10 calendar days to discuss termination with the owner
- A reminder that tenants with disabilities have the right to request reasonable accommodations during the hearing
If the recipient of the notice has a disability, the notice must be accessible to them (e.g., a visually impaired tenant might require a notice in Braille or audio form). You should send the notice by first class mail and deliver a copy to an adult at the residence. If no adult answers the door, the notice can also be posted to the door or slid through it.
Additionally, keep in mind that state/local laws tend to be stricter than the HUD’s minimum requirements. Be sure to review the local legislation for sending eviction notices in your state.
#3 Discuss Eviction with the Tenant
Per HUD regulations, Section 8 tenants are allowed ten days to discuss termination with you. This meeting should be held in the presence of a designated representative who is not involved with the case. After the discussion, you must provide a final written decision to the tenant based on the facts discussed at the meeting.
If the tenant’s breach is minor enough to be remediable by repairs or paying rent, you may decide to work with the Section 8 tenant and halt eviction proceedings. For more severe violations, however, this will not be possible. For example, criminal activity such as using/selling drugs out of the residence is grounds for immediate termination not only from your rental unit, but also from the Section 8 program entirely. As soon as the PHA is informed of drug or criminal action, the Section 8 termination process will begin as well. The tenant will lose their voucher, and even if you don’t file for eviction, they most likely wouldn’t be able to afford to rent your property at market rate without the voucher.
#4 Notify the PHA of Your Intent to Evict
If you decide to proceed with the eviction, you must first notify the PHA. Although exact procedures may vary by PHA, the easiest way to do so is likely to reach out to the PHA official who worked with you to establish the Housing Assistance Payments (HAP) contract.
#5 File for Eviction in the Appropriate Court
Next, you’ll officially file for eviction with the local District, circuit, justice of the peace, or small claims court, depending on which court has jurisdiction over eviction in your state. The official name for this action is ‘Unlawful Detainer’, ‘Forcible Entry and Detainer’, or ‘Summary Possession.’ A court order is the only way to lawfully remove a tenant who will not leave your property.
When you file the case, the clerk will ask you for important details, such as the address/description of the property, the name(s) of the tenant(s), and the basis for eviction. The court will then send the tenant a summons to appear in court for an eviction hearing. You will likely need to pay a fee both to file the case and to have a process server deliver the summons to the tenant’s residence. The tenant can still contest the eviction at the trial even if they didn’t formally object to the notice by filing an Answer.
#6 Attend the Hearing
At the hearing, both parties will present their cases in front of a judge: you will present evidence as to why the tenant should be evicted, and the tenant (if they appear) will present any legal defenses or arguments they have against the eviction. Afterwards, a judgment will be issued regarding possession of the unit. If the judgment is awarded in your favor, the sheriff or other authorized person will restore possession and remove the tenant as per state procedures.
The eviction process varies widely by state, and the additional involvement of Section 8 can complicate the rules and procedures further. However, by understanding what is required of you during a Section 8 eviction, you can feel more confident participating in this program and benefiting from its advantages for landlords.