The Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program, administered by HUD and local public housing agencies. Section 8 helps millions of people across the country. Designed to help low income, disabled, and elderly households find safe places to live, the Section 8 HCV program insists on compliance with specific regulations. These rules protect the integrity of the housing choice voucher program and ensure that those who need assistance can get the help they need.

10 Rules That Section 8 Tenants Must Follow

There are several specific rules a public housing authority may have in place, including any of the following:

  1. Live in the Unit
  2. Pay Rent on Time
  3. Pay Security Deposit
  4. Report Any Changes in Family Status
  5. Report Any Changes in Income
  6. Follow the Terms of Lease
  7. Don’t Allow Guests Longer Than 14 Consecutive Days
  8. Request Approval for New Roommates
  9. Allow PHA Inspections
  10. Avoid Illegal Activity

What Are Section 8 Family Obligations?

Every household that receives Section 8 housing choice voucher assistance must agree to abide by HUD’s strict tenant rules and obligations – also known as their family obligations. The goal of Section 8 is to help the vulnerable members of our society find safe and affordable housing.

To be deemed safe, a household must be crime-free and drug-free. The Housing Choice Voucher Program holds participants to very high standards of behavior. This is to ensure that the housing environment is safe for everyone. Before you apply for Section 8 housing assistance, you should fully understand your obligations. 

Let’s take a closer look at the rules and regulations for Section 8 tenants.

1. Live in the Unit

PHAs make sure that the people with a Section 8 voucher actually live in their rental unit. This helps HUD and your local housing authority ensure that there’s no fraud in the process. You cannot, for example, qualify for Section 8 assistance, pay your approved rental amount, and then sublet your unit to someone else. You and your family must be the ones living in the unit, and only approved family members can live with you.

2. Pay Rent on Time

As part of your lease contract, you’re expected to pay your portion of the rent on time. This is true for anyone who rents a place to live, but it’s especially true for those who participate in the Section 8 housing choice voucher program.

For most participants in the Section 8 HCV program, the cost of rent amounts to roughly 30% of their household’s adjusted income. Your portion of the rent must be an amount you’re willing and able to pay each month. Not only do you risk getting into hot water with your landlord if you don’t comply, but you also run the chance of being asked to leave the Section 8 housing choice program, which means no more rental assistance for you.

3. Pay Security Deposit

Sometimes, renters are required to pay a security deposit directly to their landlord when they sign a rental agreement. You should try to find out if this is expected before choosing and committing to a specific rental unit. If a security deposit is required, you’re expected to pay it on your own, without assistance from HUD.

4. Report Any Changes in Family Status

Your eligibility for Section 8 voucher assistance is calculated based on your family income. This is the total amount of annual income your household earns, plus the number of people in your household. If you add or remove members of your household, you must notify your PHA immediately so it can recalculate your appropriate rent payment. If you’re adding members and adding income, you may see an increase in the amount of rent that you owe per month, or vice versa if you’re losing members and their income.

5. Report Any Changes in Income

If you experience substantial changes in income, you must notify your local housing authority as soon as possible. The goal of the Section 8 housing program is to ensure that your household is paying roughly 30% of its income in rent every month. If your take-home increases, then the local housing authority will need to increase your portion of the rent. The same is true if your annual income decreases. The housing authority will need to lower your monthly rental amount to make sure you remain within the 30% guideline.

6. Follow the Terms of Lease

This may go without saying, but to remain in good standing with the Section 8 housing assistance program, you’ll need to carefully and consistently abide by the terms of the lease you signed with your landlord. The same is also true for your landlord.

7. Don’t Allow Guests Longer Than 14 Consecutive Days

Section 8 guidelines are clear – only approved family members can live with you. If you accept long-term guests without notifying your PHA, then you are in violation of your Section 8 agreement. Someone who lives with you for more than 14 consecutive days is considered a member of your household, and the housing authority will need to recalculate your rent payment amount according to your new household composition, along with any family income your guest can contribute.

HUD rules stipulate that a guest may not stay with you for more than 21 total days within any given year. Your relationship doesn’t matter. Even if your guest is a parent, child, or other blood relative, if they’re not noted in your paperwork and haven’t gone through the proper background checks and approval process, they cannot stay with you long-term.

8. Request Approval for New Roommates

Your rent amount is calculated based on your household annual income, plus the number of people within your household. If anything changes, you are required to notify your public housing authority so that it can recalculate your rent payment if needed. Everyone who is accepted into the Section 8 housing voucher program must pass a background check. If you’d like to take on a new roommate, that person must go through the approval process.

9. Allow PHA Inspections

On an annual basis, your housing authority will need to inspect your rental unit to ensure that both you and your landlord are adhering to appropriate rules and regulations. That means that you’re taking care of the unit as specified in your lease, and so is your landlord. As part of your agreement to participate in the Section 8 program, you must allow your housing authority access to your rental unit for these inspections when requested.

10. Avoid Illegal Activity

HUD has no tolerance for criminal activity in Section 8 housing. This is particularly true for drug-related crimes carried out within your home. Anyone who lives in your household will need to pass a background check before being approved. If your public housing authority learns that you or someone in your household has been found guilty of a crime on the rental premises, you will likely be removed from the Section 8 program.

Section 8 Rules for Landlords

Landlords who participate in the Section 8 housing voucher program must also abide by HUD’s rules and regulations or face removal from the program. Any participating landlord must abide by the state’s landlord-tenant law in addition to stipulations set forth by HUD. Some states require all landlords to accept Section 8 tenants, so before choosing and applying for a unit, make sure you understand whether the landlord you’re working with has the legal right to refuse Section 8 tenants.

Section 8 landlords agree to have their rental units inspected for initial HUD approval to ensure that they meet HUD standards for safe, clean, and respectable housing for its Section 8 renters. If any unit doesn’t pass the initial inspection, the landlord will be given a specified timeframe to make improvements. The PHA will carry out yearly inspections to make sure the housing environment remains appropriate for tenants.

Just like the tenant, the landlord must comply with the stipulations of the lease agreement. This typically entails promptly responding to maintenance concerns or handling complaints about parking or other tenants. Before raising your rent, the landlord must notify the local public housing authority, who will then verify that the increase is fair market rent. This kind of rent increase can only happen once per year.

Tenant Rights

Under the Fair Housing Act, every tenant has the right to be treated equally under the law. This means that a landlord cannot legally participate in practices like charging different rental rates for different types of renters, delaying or not performing maintenance tasks for some groups of renters, limiting any services, renter privileges, or property facility access to any group of renters based on race, gender, ethnicity, disability, religion, or family status.

To enforce the Fair Housing Act, HUD may send test renters to view properties in order to determine whether landlords are engaging in any unfair practices. If you feel your tenant rights have been violated during your search for housing and any subsequent rental, you can report this activity to HUD, who will then investigate the claim and determine whether any further legal action is necessary.

Section 8 Rules and Regulations

HUD’s Section 8 housing voucher rental assistance program fulfills an important and vital need for many low-income families across the country. Section 8 helps them access safe and affordable housing, where they can raise their families and be productive citizens.

To protect both the integrity of the housing choice program and the living environment for those who participate in the program, HUD has put in place careful rules and regulations for everyone who participates in the Section 8 voucher program. Before you apply for a Section 8 housing choice voucher, make sure you fully understand your rights and obligations, along with the obligations of your landlord. This helps ensure that Section 8 housing is safe and fair for everyone involved.