Most landlords have at least heard about housing voucher programs, but how much do you know? Fair Housing Laws are changing in many jurisdictions across the country, including Maryland. Some districts, including Baltimore City, now list the source of income as a protected class. Therefore, as a landlord, understanding your rights and responsibilities when it comes to housing voucher programs will help you prepare for when it comes time to lease. So, join us below as we discuss various housing voucher requirements for landlords and how to get your property in compliance.
What is the Housing Choice Voucher Program?
The Housing Authority of Baltimore City receives federal funds through the office of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). These funds then provide local rental assistance programs the ability to help low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled afford housing. Therefore, this allows participants of the program to choose any home that passes a housing inspection and meets all other requirements of the program.
Can Landlords Refuse to Rent to a Voucher Holder?
No, landlords in Baltimore City cannot refuse to accept a tenant based on the individual having a voucher. Fair Housing Laws protect Baltimore City residents from discrimination based on the source of income, including vouchers. That said, all prospects need to have the same qualification standards, including background checks, creditworthiness, and rental history verification as any other tenant. Besides, all landlords should have a screening process in place to include these factors, and it must be the same for everyone to avoid any implication of discrimination against any of the protected classes.
Benefits of Renting with the Housing Voucher Program?
Understanding the key benefits and added responsibilities as part of the voucher program will help landlords make the most of the endeavor. Landlords help to provide valuable opportunities to families and individuals in need, but the benefits go both ways. Check out some of the upsides for property owners below.
- Convenient Payments: Housing Assistance Payments (HAP) are deposited to owners via direct deposit each month.
- Added Marketing Exposure: Landlords with vacancies can take advantage of additional marketing sites such as GoSection8.com. Thus, helping to maximize exposure and fill units quickly.
- Loss Protection: If a tenant experiences financial hardship, they can report this to the voucher program. Once verified, the subsidy payment can be adjusted to accommodate the tenant’s situation.
- Pre-Screening: All participants in the voucher program are pre-screened with a criminal background check. However, we advise that landlords still perform their own standard screening, you can rent with confidence.
Do Landlords Need to Register Their Rental Property?
Yes! In fact, failing to register your property can cost you a $1000 fine plus suspension or even revocation of your rental license. As of August 1, 2018, all rental properties, including multi-family, single-family, and two-family properties, must have a rental license from the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD). However, to receive a license, the property owner must complete the following:
- Register with the Department of Housing and Community Development via their online portal
- Have the home or building inspected by a State Licensed, Baltimore City registered Home Inspector
Guide to Home Inspections and Housing Quality Standards
Housing Inspections are a vital part of the rental license and voucher process. Thus, when applying for your rental license, inspectors are verifying that essential health and safety maintenance items are cared for to ensure the property is up to code. Initial licenses are for two years, but based on your violation and upkeep records, it can then renew on a 1, 2, or 3-year basis. For instance, state inspectors look for the following, although it is not limited to the list below.
- Electrical Issues
- Functioning Plumbing Fixtures
- Interior Sanitary Conditions
- Exterior Condition
- Evidence of Lead Paint
- Verifying Working Utilities
- Smoke Detectors
- Carbon Monoxide Detectors
- Safety Hazards
Housing Choice Voucher Program Inspections
Initially and then periodically, the property will be inspected by a Housing Inspector to ensure the home or unit meets Housing Quality Standards. Consequently, this verifies that households stay in a safe and habitable condition for all voucher participants. These inspections look at a variety of factors, but there are a few important things to note as a landlord.
- When housing schedules an inspection, both the landlord and tenant are notified by mail.
- In the event, an inspector cannot gain entry into the home; this becomes a failed inspection. If there are two failed attempts without access, the housing office can suspend payments and move to terminate the contract.
- If a unit fails to meet the HQS while vacant, it will prevent the voucher program from entering into a HAP contract and allowing tenants to take possession of the home.
- When an inspection takes place in an occupied home and fails, the housing office can suspend HAP payments.
- It is the responsibility of the landlord to make sure the housing inspector can gain access to the home or unit.
Housing Code Violations vs. Voucher Program Inspection Failures
Whether the rental property is going through the licensing process or housing program verification, inspectors will be pouring over the details. As a landlord, understanding what inspectors are looking for will help get you prepared. Check out the list below of some of the most common items that can cause you to fail. For a complete list or to see sample inspection forms, visit the Baltimore City Rental Inspection or Voucher Program website.
Examples of Housing Code Violations
- Lack of heat, light, or electricity
- No hot or cold running water
- Missing adequate sewage disposal facilities
- An infestation of pests in the dwelling unit
- Evidence of lead paint
- Structural issues that present a safety hazard
- Heath or fire hazards
Common Housing Quality Standard Violations
- Missing Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors: These are required to be on every level of the unit, including in the basement and outside of bedrooms.
- Railings: Wherever there are four or more consecutive steps in the interior or exterior, handrails are a requirement.
- Outlets and Lighting: Any living area must have two working outlets or one working outlet and a permanently installed light fixture.
- Windows: All windows designed to open must function and have a mechanism to secure them in place.
- Bathroom Ventilation: Bathrooms must have an operational window or working exhaust fan for ventilation.
- Damaged Gutters: If any downspouts or gutters are damaged or missing, the landlord will need to repair or replace them.
Additional Requirements Properties Must Meet Before Rental
- Baltimore City’s Building, Fire and Related Codes
- Maryland’s Lead Paint Laws
- MDEs Lead Poisoning Prevention Program
- Federal Fair Housing Laws
Who Determines Rental Rates?
Landlords always determine the asking price for their property based on what they feel the unit is worth. However, if an applicant with a voucher is approved and accepted, the housing office will base their rent offer on comparable homes in the area and fair market value. Keep in mind the offer amount from the housing office may be less than your marketed asking price. The process usually goes as follows:
Basic Steps in the Voucher Process
- The landlord accepts the applicant and the tenant presents paperwork to submit for approval from the housing office.
- The housing office will review the paperwork and schedule an inspection.
- An inspector will complete a property inspection and report back to the housing office.
- If no issues arise, the housing office will submit a rent offer to the owner based on the local market value.
- When the owner accepts the offer, the Housing Office executes the HAP contract, and the tenants move forward with the signing of the lease.
- Schedule a move-in date, and tenants take possession of the home.
- Landlords begin receiving disbursements from the housing office for monthly rent along with the tenants paying their portion.
The Rent Offer is Low, Can the Tenant Pay the Difference?
No. The housing office calculates the family or individual’s share of the rent offer based on many factors, including other household expenses and affordability. So, regardless of the total rent offer, tenants may not pay more than what the housing office has determined they can afford. Any attempt by a landlord to force or even request that the tenant pay more is illegal.
Navigating the requirements of Housing Voucher Programs can be both rewarding and complicated for landlords. For the most part, the conditions it takes are things any responsible landlord or property manager would do anyway, such as proper maintenance on the property to ensure health and safety. Sometimes dealing with the city can be a slow and tedious process, not to mention time-consuming for a busy landlord. If this all seems too overwhelming, consider hiring a local and knowledgeable Baltimore City property management company. Let the dedicated staff of Bay Property Management Group guide you through meeting the housing voucher requirements as well as keeping your home in compliance.