Fall River Housing Authority Section 8 Basics FAQs
What are housing choice vouchers?
The housing choice voucher program is the federal government’s housing program that assists very low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled. This program enables them to afford decent, safe, and sanitary housing in the private market. The participant is free to choose any housing that meets the requirements of the program. This program is the current version of the Section 8 Program.
Housing choice vouchers are administered locally by the Fall River Housing Authority (FRHA), with funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). A family that is issued a housing voucher is responsible for finding a suitable housing unit where the owner agrees to rent under the program. This unit must meet minimum standards of health and safety. A housing subsidy is paid to the landlord directly by the FRHA on behalf of the participating family. The family then pays the difference between the actual rent charged by the landlord and the amount subsidized by the program.
Voucher holders generally have between 120 and 180 days to find an apartment and enter the program.
What will we pay?
The FRHA uses a payment standard that is the amount generally needed to rent a moderately-priced dwelling unit in Fall River. A family which receives a housing voucher can select a unit with a rent that is not more than this amount. In other words we pay the difference between the approved rent and the amount the tenant can afford based on a formula. Payment standards change at least annually and are available from our Housing Assistance Department. When a family with a voucher is entering into a lease with you for the first time, the family cannot pay more than 40% of their income for rent, and the rent is limited to the Reasonable Rent for the Apartment. Some families with a Voucher can afford more expensive apartments than other Voucher holders.
Can I move and continue to receive housing choice voucher assistance?
Yes! A family’s housing needs change over time due to changes in family size, job locations, and for other reasons. Moves are permissible as long as the family notifies the FRHA ahead of time, terminates its existing lease within the lease provisions, and finds acceptable alternate housing.
Roles - of the Tenant, the Landlord, and the FRHA
Once the FRHA approves an eligible family’s housing unit, the family and the landlord sign a lease and, at the same time, the landlord and the PHA sign a housing assistance payments contract that runs for the same term as the lease. This means that everyone — tenant, landlord and FRHA — have obligations and responsibilities under the voucher program. Both tenants and landlords obligations also include those that are required in the private market.
Tenant’s Obligations: The family selects the housing unit, and then signs a lease with the landlord for at least one year. The tenant may be required to pay a security deposit to the landlord. After the first year the landlord may initiate a new lease or allow the family to remain in the unit on a month-to-month lease.
When the family is settled in a new home, the family is expected to comply with the lease and the program requirements, pay its share of rent on time, maintain the unit in good condition and notify the PHA of any changes in income or family composition.
Landlord’s Obligations: The role of the landlord in the voucher program is to provide decent, safe, and sanitary housing to a tenant at a reasonable rent. The dwelling unit must pass the program’s housing quality standards and be maintained up to those standards as long as the owner receives housing assistance payments. In addition, the landlord is expected to provide the services agreed to as part of the lease signed with the tenant and the contract signed with the FRHA.
The FRHA will also ask the owner to certify that he/she is the present owner of the property, provide a copy of the registered deed with the book and page number listed by the county’s Registry of Deeds. If the Deed is more than ten (10) years old, the FRHA asks that an owner provide a copy of a current tax bill for the property.
FRHA’s Obligations: The FRHA provides a family with a housing assistance subsidy that enables the family afford suitable housing. The FRHA enters into a contract with the landlord to provide this subsidy. This subsidy is paid directly to the landlord on a monthly basis. If the landlord fails to meet the owner’s obligations under the lease, the FRHA has the right to terminate assistance payments. The FRHA must reexamine the family’s income and composition at least annually and must inspect each unit at least annually to ensure that it meets minimum housing quality standards.
How the System Works
After finding an appropriate apartment, the family must request that the FRHA approve the apartment. This is done by filling out and submitting HUD form HUD-52517, Request for Tenancy Approval. Form HUD-52517 contains basic information about the rental unit selected by the family, including the unit address, number of bedrooms, structure type, year constructed, utilities included in the rent, and the requested beginning date of the lease. Most of this information will be obtained from the landlord.
Owners must certify the most recent amount of rent charged for the unit and provide an explanation for any difference between the prior rent and the proposed rent. Owners must also certify that they are not the parent, child, grandparent, grandchild, sister or brother of any member of the family, unless the PHA has granted a request for reasonable accommodation for a person with disabilities who is a member of the tenant household.
Finally, for units constructed prior to 1978, owners must either 1) certify that the unit, common areas, and exterior have been found to be free of lead-based paint by a certified inspector; or 2) attach a lead-based paint disclosure statement.
The submission of these forms starts an approval process which requires the FRHA to inspect the apartment and determine what a Fair Rent is for each apartment.
When renewing a lease the landlord may request a rent increase, which must be documented using our Request for Rent Increase form. This request must be made at least 60 days prior to lease expiration.
HUD FORM 52517 MUST BE COMPLETELY FILLED OUT IN ORDER TO BE PROCESSED. INCOMPLETE FORMS WILL BE RETURNED TO THE TENANT AND WILL DELAY ANY REQUEST FROM BEING IMPLEMENTED.
Rent Reasonableness Testing
The FRHA must assure that rents charged by owners to housing choice voucher program participants are reasonable. This determination involves two comparisons. First, the FRHA must compare the rent for the voucher unit to rents for similar unassisted units in the marketplace. Second, the FRHA must compare the rent to rents for similar units on the premises. (As stated earlier our published payment standard must not be exceeded)
Ensuring rent reasonableness is very important for effective program operations. If the FRHA approves rents that are too high government funds are wasted, and limited housing subsidies are squandered. If rents are approved at levels lower than comparable units in the private market, the better owners may not participate in the program, or they participate only their lowest-cost and lowest-quality units. In addition, families may be inappropriately restricted in where they can live.
We must make this rent reasonableness comparison whenever the following occurs:
* Before entering into a HAP contract. The FRHA not execute a HAP contract until it has documented that the charged rent is reasonable.
* Before any increase in the rent to owner. The FRHA must determine and document whether the proposed rent is reasonable compared to similar units in the marketplace and not higher than those paid by unassisted tenants on the premises.
If the proposed rent is determined to be too high and does not meet the rent reasonableness limitation, the FRHA will engage in negotiations with the owner and attempt to reduce the contract rent or to include some or all of the utilities in the contract rent. The FRHA will not approve rents deemed unreasonable.
The part of the rent to owner that the tenant pays may not be more than the difference between the rent to owner and the housing assistance payment. The owner may not demand or accept any rent payment from the tenant in excess of this maximum and must immediately return any excess rent payment to the tenant. The family is not responsible for payment of the portion of rent to owner covered by the housing assistance payment. Likewise, the PHA is not responsible for any portion of the family share, including family rent to owner. Payment of the family share is the responsibility of the family.
Housing Quality Standards (HQS)
The FRHA must assure that all apartments subsidized under this program are in good enough condition to pass our HQS inspection. Our inspectors will arrange to visit each apartment and perform this inspection. Units must also meet all requirements of the Massachusetts Sanitary Code. This inspection is an absolute requirement and we will not pay any subsidy or approve an apartment until it passes our inspection.
The apartment must also pass an annual inspection using the same standards. Therefore it is important that both the Landlord and the Tenant coordinate the timing of these inspections with our staff.
Other program requirements
The operation of this program is cooperative effort between the FRHA, the tenants and the landlords. We require the cooperation of all parties.
Tenants must report all changes in family composition and income as soon as it occurs. This will affect the family’s rent as well as the subsidy payment.
Landlords must inform us when tenants move.
Both the tenants and landlords are responsible for the physical condition of units. That is our residents must not damage the apartments and the landlords must maintain them in a safe, decent and sanitary condition.
What happens after I rent to the family?
Every year the FRHA will determine whether the family is still eligible for the program and whether the apartment is still in compliance with the State Sanitary Code.
Can the lease be terminated, if necessary?
Your lease will spell out how much notice you must give your tenant if you want to terminate the tenancy. Although you should send the FRHA copies of the eviction notice, you do not need the FRHA’s permission to evict a tenant who is in violation of the lease. Tenants wishing to move must also follow the requirements of the lease unless a landlord agrees to release the tenant from these obligations.
This page is not intended to be all inclusive and does not contain all FRHA or HUD requirements. It is intended to help new participants and landlords with a very basic understanding of the program.