The Housing Choice Voucher Program sometimes referred to as “Section 8,” provides families and individuals an equal opportunity for a place to call home. However, many landlords are unfamiliar with the voucher process when it comes to rentals and how it works. So, join us below as we walk landlords through the requirements and steps for section 8 in Virginia.
What is the Housing Choice Voucher Program?
The Housing Choice Voucher Program is a federally backed program that provides affordable housing to individuals and families that meet certain income requirements. In Virginia, these subsidized vouchers get distributed through the state and local programs under the Virginia Housing and Development Agency or VHDA. Thus, through these programs, qualified prospects can choose from a wider range of housing options not otherwise available.
Do Landlords in VA Have to Accept a Voucher?
Yes, under certain conditions. According to legislation passed in 2020, landlords in Virginia with more than four rental units cannot refuse to rent to a tenant solely based on a housing voucher. That said, regardless of where your rental property is located, knowing the law is critical. When prospective tenants ask if Section 8 vouchers are allowed, landlords must realize the decision may not be up to them. In fact, more and more states and local jurisdictions are protecting renters against discrimination based on the source of income.
How to Avoid a Fair Housing Dispute Over Section 8 in Virginia
Fair Housing Laws protect individuals and families from residential housing discrimination. For example, Virginia has made it illegal to discriminate against anyone based on the following factors, otherwise known as protected classes:
- National Origin
- Familial Status
- Sexual Orientation
- Gender Identity
- Veteran Status
- Source of Income
Any discrimination, real or implied, could see landlords facing legal battles with potentially devastating financial consequences. So, to ensure that does not happen to you and your rental properties, follow along with these tips below.
Tips for Complying with Fair Housing Law
- Consistency is Key – No matter the prospect, it is essential that landlords have a consistent standard to evaluate, qualify, and respond to tenants. Additionally, any attempt to make the application or screening process intentionally more difficult for voucher clients would violate state law. So, the bottom line is, treat everyone fairly and treat everyone the same. Thus, helping to avoid claims of discrimination based on any protected classes.
- Steer Clear of Steering – “Steering” is when a landlord or leasing agent attempts to restrict a tenant’s housing options by directing them to certain units or a certain area of the community. This is easily an argument for discrimination and should not be a policy landlord’s attempt in their rental property business. A vacant unit is a vacant unit and must be offered to any qualified applicant.
- Do Not Abandon Standard Qualifications – While landlords cannot refuse to rent to tenants solely based on them having a housing voucher, that does not mean these individuals are not held to the same standard as all other applicants. Therefore, voucher applicants may still face rejection for other valid reasons such as negative prior rental history, problematic criminal background check, or poor payment history.
- Avoid Any Discrimination – Source of income is far from the only protected class under Fair Housing Laws. Therefore, landlords must familiarize themselves with specific restrictions in their area. Then, once aware of all applicable laws, ensure that staff and printed or digital media reflect full compliance with Fair Housing Standards.
Section 8 in Virginia – Who is Responsible for What?
The process of Section 8 in Virginia is a series of steps that rely on cooperation between the tenant, landlord, and housing program to all do their part. Let’s review these responsibilities below –
Landlord Responsibilities for Section 8 in Virginia
- Provide a clean and safe living environment.
- Enforce and comply with the landlord’s responsibilities outlined in the lease.
- Comply with terms of the Housing Assistance Payments or HAP Contract.
- Maintain the rental property per HUD’s Housing Quality Standards.
- Coordinate with the local housing agency to inspect the property using the Inspection Checklist (Form HUD-52580A).
- Correct any issues found in the housing inspection report within the required timeframe. The rental property must meet all guidelines before the initial lease and then be reinspected annually.
Tenant Responsibilities for Section 8 in Virginia
- A minimum of one household applicant must be a U.S. citizen or have eligible immigration status.
- Provide truthful and verifiable information on all documentation.
- Not engage in any illegal, illicit, or violent activities.
- Abide by all terms of the residential lease agreement.
- Report any changes to household members or income per the program rules.
- Re-certify annually, along with allowing the housing authority to conduct inspections as needed.
What is the Process of Renting Through Section 8 in Virginia?
- Establish the Rent
- Select a Section 8 Tenant
- Submit an RTA or Request for Tenancy Approval
- Complete and Pass a Housing Inspection
- Collect Deposits and Monthly Rent
Establish the Rent
Housing programs and Section 8 in Virginia base rental offers on Fair Market Rates. These are provided annually by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and establish rent based on a property’s number of bedrooms. From there, various Section 8 programs use this information along with local data to set housing payment standards within 90% and 110% of the published FMRs.
Select a Section 8 Tenant
All Section 8 tenants in Virginia must pass prescreening through the housing office. Furthermore, all tenants, whether market or voucher, must meet the landlord’s standard qualification criteria. In addition to verifying income or voucher status, property owners should screen for the following –
- Criminal Background Check
- Creditworthiness Check
- Rental History Verification
- Landlord and/or Personal References
Submit an RTA or Request for Tenancy Approval
When a voucher tenant is interested in occupying a property, they cannot move forward until the property goes through the housing approval process. Therefore, the first step is to submit a Request for Tenancy Approval Form. This provides the housing office with important information regarding your rental property, including, but not limited to, the list below –
- Property Address
- Proposed Rental Rate
- Anticipated Lease Start Date
- List of Included Utilities (if any)
- Landlord Contact Information
- Tenant Contact Information
- Signatures of All Parties
Complete and Pass a Housing Inspection
Once the housing office processes the Request for Tenancy Approval, an inspection of the property is required. Therefore, the inspector will verify that the property meets all local building codes and the housing office’s standards of habitability. From there, a few things could happen –
- Property Passes Inspection – If the inspection goes off without a hitch, the tenant and landlord can continue moving forward towards a signed lease. Keep in mind; the Housing Authority will reinspect and recertify the property annually to ensure those standards are maintained.
- The Property Fails an Inspection – If the unit fails, the inspector will provide a list of items to correct within a set timeframe. So, as long as the landlord completes the tasks and passes a secondary inspection, everyone can move forward in the process.
- Landlord Unable to Complete Repairs – If the property fails and the landlord cannot complete the required task list, the housing office may deem the property unfit for the voucher program.
Collect Deposits and Monthly Rent
Landlords are responsible for collecting the security deposit direct from either the tenant or another agency that has agreed to pay the deposit on their behalf. Typically, a voucher is responsible for a percentage of the monthly rent while the housing program covers the remainder. As a landlord, it is your responsibility to ensure the tenant is aware of how to pay their portion and to follow through to ensure it is received. Any other funds to cover the remainder of the monthly rent come from the housing office via direct deposit to the owner.
Pros and Cons of Section 8 in Virginia
In addition to helping the community, there are several benefits for landlords renting to Section 8 in Virginia. That said, there are also a few drawbacks that landlords should plan for. Continue reading below to find out more!
Pros for Landlords in the Section 8 Program
- Guaranteed Income – Generally, the subsidy covers 50% to 70% of the monthly rent. Therefore, since this portion comes direct from the housing office, landlords can rest assured they will receive that amount each month.
- Pre-Screened Tenants – To qualify for a voucher program, tenants must meet and adhere to Section 8 requirements. This includes passing a criminal background check and income verification. While this does not take the place of a landlord’s own screening, it is an added layer of protection.
- Regular Inspections – Depending on your perspective, regular housing inspections could be a blessing or a curse. However, these inspections provide insight into how the tenants maintain the unit and ensure they are not causing excessive damage.
Cons of Participating in the Section 8 Program
- Varying Standards – To qualify for Section 8 in Virginia, the property must meet the program’s habitability standards. That said, while a standard of habitability is required for renting regardless, the state and landlords may differ in how they view those standards. This may or may not become an issue if the state inspection requires landlords to make upgrades, changes, or repairs that can add up fast.
- No Guarantees – Whether renting to a voucher or market tenant, there are no guarantees. It is true that section 8 tenants are prescreened and must comply with the lease and program to retain their voucher, but things still do happen. So, if the tenant is expelled from the housing program, landlords are left with an occupant who cannot afford the rent and may need to be evicted if they do not leave voluntarily.
The Best Way to Navigate Renting to Individuals with a Voucher
Navigating housing program requirements, paperwork, inspections, and Fair Housing Laws is a daunting process for landlords. That said, renting to either market tenants or participants of Section 8 in Virginia is a lot of work. Thankfully, professional property management firms can bridge the gap between tenants, landlords, and housing offices to efficiently rent your property.
Bay Property Management Group has offices ready to serve owners in Northern Virginia, Arlington County, Fairfax County, Henrico County, Loudon County, and Prince William County. Our team of rental management experts in Virginia handles daily operations, paperwork, and communications so our clients can get the most out of their property investments while still having free time and peace of mind. Interested in finding out more? Give us a call today for a free no-obligation property analysis to see if full-service rental management in Leesburg is the right choice for you!