Frequently Asked Questions
1. How Do I Apply for a Housing Choice Voucher (Section 8 Voucher)?
Applications for Vouchers are not being accepted at this time. The Commission’s waiting list for Vouchers has been closed since June 2012. For those who are on the waiting list, the current projected waiting period for a Voucher is approximately 8-10 years. We anticipate that wait may continue to grow unless the Commission receives funding for additional vouchers from the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development. Unfortunately, it does not appear that the waiting list will be opening for applications in the near future, based on recent funding decisions by the federal government.
2. Does the Commission pay the security deposit?
No. The security deposit is paid by the tenant.
3. When should I pay the security deposit?
Many landlords will ask for the security deposit when you wish to rent their unit. This is not unusual. However, it is recommended that you receive the return policy in writing should you or the landlord decide not to rent the unit.
4. Who pays the utilities?
The owner and tenant must agree who will be responsible for the payment of specific utilities. These responsibilities are outlined in the lease and contract; and placed on the Request for Tenancy Approval prior to the Commission inspecting the unit.
5. How much money will the Commission pay for my home?
The owner will determine how much rent to charge. This rent must be the same as the owner would charge an unassisted tenant and request that amount. The Commission will compare the rent requested to other similar, unassisted units to see if the rent is comparable. This Commission will also determine if you can afford the rent. You will not be able to pay more than 40% of your income towards rent and utilities.
The Commission will inspect your unit and you MUST NOT sign a lease until the unit passes inspection.
6. What is my portion of the rent?
Your rent portion is affected by family income and the contract rent for the unit. In the first year of the contract, the tenant portion of between 30%-40% of the family’s monthly adjusted income, depending on the rent amount. After the first year of the lease, the rent may exceed 40% of your income but you may find this to be unaffordable. If this happens, you may refuse to sign a new lease and request to move to another unit.
More on this calculation can be found here.
7. Why do I have to pay rent when I have a voucher?
Housing Choice Voucher Program is a rental assistance program – not a free rent program.
8. When can I move in?
You may begin your lease with your landlord the day the unit passes inspection. The Commission will sign a contract to help with the rent on the day you move in and sign your lease provided that they unit passes inspection and is determined reasonable compared to similar, unassisted units. Of course, you must provide income to the Commission so that we can determine if the rent is affordable for your family.
9. My unit hasn’t passed inspection, but my landlord said I can move in.
Please be aware the Commission will not pay subsidy on your behalf to the landlord until your unit passes inspection and it is under contract. If you move in before this time period, the Commission will not pay any portion of your rent and your landlord may be able to charge you the full amount of rent.
10. How is income verified?
All income, benefits and allowance must be verified with documentation. The Commission staff must obtain written documentation from independent third party sources. In addition, the Commission will use the HUD Enterprise Income Verification module that matches social security numbers with employment records. If unreported income is found, this can result in termination of assistance. The family will be required to repay the Commission for any overpaid assistance.
11. When should I report changes in income or household?
All changes must be reported immediately and must be reported in writing. Failure to report or under reporting income could jeopardize your housing assistance.
12. I have a complaint about my current landlord. Who can I contact?
As a tenant, your lease is with your landlord or an owner of the property. The Commission is not a party to your lease. You and your landlord should try and work out any problems you may have. If your landlord does not make repairs in a timely manner after you have notified him or her, you may contact your Housing Specialist for a complaint inspection.
13. How do I qualify for a utility check?
Whether or not a family receives a utility allowance check is determined by family income and the utilities for which the family is responsible. The tenant total payment (approximately 30% of their monthly adjusted income) includes the rent portion and utilities. If the tenant’s rent amount is less than the utility allowance for the unit, the family will receive the difference in a utility check.
The utility allowance is based on the average cost of utilities and the size of the unit. Allowances are not based upon an individual family’s actual energy consumption.
14. What do I do if I want to move and use my rental assistance in another unit?
The Commission must receive a copy of the Good Standing Notice signed by you and your landlord. You must give a minimum of a sixty (60) day notice to the landlord and the notice must state your intention to move. You will be scheduled for a moving briefing and receive your voucher, Request for Tenancy Approval (RFTA) and a briefing packet for the new unit. Please note that you will not receive a voucher without attending the moving briefing.
15. Why is an annual re-certification necessary?
The Commission is required by federal regulation to review each family’s income and family size at least once per year. This is done to insure the right amount of rent is being paid based on actual income and the voucher is the right size for the family.
16. What happens during the re-certification?
The family will be required to either: (1) visit the Commission’s office; (2) complete the recertification online at our Rent Café Portal; OR (3) be mailed a recertification packet to complete and return to our office. Unless you need a reasonable accommodation, the Commission determines how the recertification is conducted. All participants may be required to attend an in-person interview at least once every two years.
An application will be completed and all paperwork that needs to be signed will be done at this interview. After the re-certification is complete, the family and the landlord will be sent a new rent letter advising of the tenant’s portion of rent and the Commission’s Housing Assistance Payment.
17. My income has changed. What do I do?
As stated above, all income changes must be made in writing immediately or on the Rent Café Portal. If your income has decreased, your new rent will be effective the following month after you have reported the change in writing. For example: if you lost your job in June but did not send the written notice of change until August, then your rent will be decreased for September. It is extremely important that you report any changes in a timely manner.
18. What are Housing Quality Standards?
Housing Quality Standards (HQS) are the HUD minimum quality standards for housing assisted under the rental assistance program. HQS have been developed for program use nationwide and help to ensure your home will be safe, decent and sanitary. These standards are applied by the Housing Inspector during the inspection. Please see the HQS guidance found here.
19. Are inspections required?
Yes. Inspections will be completed prior to the unit being placed under a Housing Assistance Payment Contract and annually. A special inspection may be requested by tenants or landlords under different circumstances.
20. Do I have to be present when the inspection occurs?
No. There must be a responsible adult (age 18 or over) present to let the inspector into the unit. We advise that tenants and/or landlords be present for inspections. This is an opportunity for you to find out first hand if and why the unit does not pass inspection.
21. I was not at home for my inspection – how can I reschedule?
You may reschedule your inspection by contacting the Inspector on the appointment letter. If you miss an inspection, you may jeopardize your rental assistance, so you must contact the Inspector.
If the first inspection is missed, the unit will automatically be rescheduled for a second inspection within the next 30 days. If a second appointment is missed, the family will be recommended for termination of assistance. In addition, the HAP and utility allowance (UAP), if received, will be placed on hold and the check will not be released until an inspection is done.
22. Why was my rent or unit abated?
The Commission is required to inspect voucher-assisted units at least annually. Rent is abated (stopped) when the repairs are not completed by the re-inspection deadline date. The unit will be taken out of abatement if it passes inspection and payments will resume the day after the unit passes inspection.
23. Who should I report maintenance problems to?
Maintenance problems should be reported to the landlord or property manager in writing. If the problem is not corrected in a prompt or satisfactory manner, the problem should be reported to the Commission in writing for possible action.
24. My Landlord wants me to pay more than my rental portion? Can the tenant pay extra rent to make up the amount the Landlord wants?
No. The Commission determines the tenant’s portion of the rent. The owner, cannot under any circumstances, charge or accept additional payments from the family for their share of the rent that has not been approved by the Commission. If you, as the tenant, agree to pay more than your portion of the rent, it is considered a “side payment”. This is not permitted and you may lose your assistance.
25. What should I expect from my landlord?
Landlords have the same rights and responsibilities in the Housing Choice Voucher Program as they have with any open market renter, including:
- Maintain the property in good condition.
- Complete all necessary repairs within a reasonable amount of time upon request by the Housing Authority or tenant, including all 24 hour emergency items. The amount of time that is considered reasonable depends upon the nature of the problem.
- Set reasonable rules about the use of the unit and common areas.
- Collect appropriate security deposit as directed under the program and use it only in accordance with state and local law.
- Comply with equal housing opportunity requirements.
- Enforce tenant obligations under the terms of your lease.
- Take action through the court system to evict a tenant when they violate the lease.
26. What should my landlord expect from me as a Housing Choice Voucher tenant?
- Pay your portion of the rent on time.
- Keep the unit clean.
- Maintain exterior of residence and yard.
- Avoid illegal activities by household members and guests.
- Allow the Commission’s Inspectors access to the unit to conduct HQS inspections.
- Permit landlord and designated repairmen access to the unit for repairs.
- Avoid damage to the property by household members and guests.
- Refrain from disturbing neighbors.
- Allow only those occupants on the lease to reside in the unit.
- Comply with terms and conditions of the dwelling lease and tenancy addendum.
27. What are tenant HQS responsibilities in the unit?
Practice good housekeeping habits in your home. Keep the home in a clean, safe and orderly condition. Do not damage the property. Cut the grass, hedges, shrubbery and maintain the exterior of the property. Let the property manager or landlord know as soon as possible when maintenance or repair work is needed.
28. Can I lose my rental assistance?
There are a number of ways families can lose their rental assistance. Here is a partial list of typical reasons that are usually sufficient to cause the Commission to stop rental assistance to a family:
- Not complying with the terms of the Housing Choice Voucher program family obligations.
- Any family member who has committed fraud, bribery or any other corrupt or criminal act in connection with any federal housing program
- Vacating the housing unit without proper notice
- Allowing unauthorized persons to live in the housing unit
- Failing to report or under reporting changes in income or provide information provided by the Commission or re-certification of the family’s continued eligibility for rental assistance
- Any family member residing in the unit that is involved in drug-related or criminal activities
- Serious or repeated lease violations
29. I received a termination of assistance notice. What can I do?
A family is entitled to an informal hearing in most circumstances of termination. Our notice of termination will advise if you are entitled to a hearing. You must return the bottom portion of the termination notice within ten (10) days in order to qualify for a hearing. If you do not return the bottom portion of the hearing request within the time frame specified, you will forfeit the right to a hearing and your assistance will be terminated.
30. My lease is up and I want to move. How do I go about doing that?
Sixty (60) days prior to your lease expiration, you must advise the landlord, in writing, that you want to move. A copy of this notice to vacate must be submitted to your Housing Specialist. Your Housing Specialist will submit your name for a moving briefing. You will receive your voucher at the moving briefing along with the other paperwork to find a new unit.
31. I don’t really like the home or neighborhood I moved into. Can I move again?
You must live in your home for the first year of a lease. After the one year lease term has been satisfied you will be able to move.
32. I want to move out of Howard County. Can I?
Yes. A Housing Choice Voucher holder may take the voucher anywhere in the United States where a Public Housing Authority administers a tenant-based voucher program. This process is called portability.
In order to move, you must do so at the end of your lease with a proper 60-day notice to your current landlord and:
- Notify your Housing Specialist that you wish to move to another state.
- Have a place in mind and preferably have the name of a Housing Authority in that area that administers the Housing Choice Voucher Program.
Then the Commission will send a portability package to the receiving Housing Agency, which would include a new 60-day Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher. At this time, you should be in the jurisdiction of the receiving Housing Authority and must make an appointment with them to determine eligibility in their area and to begin the process according to their standards. PLEASE NOTE: Participants must be in good standing with the PHA and Landlord to utilize portability.
33. What is a reasonable accommodation? Can I get one?
Sometimes people with disabilities may need a reasonable accommodation in order to take full advantage of the Commission’s housing programs and related services.
A reasonable accommodation is a change, adaption, or modification to the Commission’s rules, policies, practices or services which are necessary to provide a qualified individual with a handicap or disability an equal opportunity to participate fully in services, programs or activities provided by the Commission.
Your request should be made to your Housing Specialist. A request may be made either orally or in writing. A request can also be made on behalf of the individual by a family member or other agent.
34. What if I have an individual need?
Please tell us if you need assistance of any kind to access our services. If you need an interpreter or a translator, tell us, and we will provide one for you.
35. I have a specific question that isn’t answered here. Where do I get the answer?
If your question isn’t answered in this list, you may submit using our Contact Form.
Other Housing Resources
Apply for Housing Assistance Other Than a Housing Choice Voucher:
Please visit our Find Housing page to learn about other housing resources.
Other Providers of Housing Assistance in Howard County:
Below is a list of other providers of housing assistance in Howard County. Types of assistance and eligibility requirements vary. Inquire directly with the provider to learn more:
- Bridges to Housing Stability
- Community Action Council of Howard County
- Heritage Housing Partners
- Howard County Dept. of Community Resources and Services
- Howard County Dept. of Housing and Community Development
- Homelessness Services – Grassroots Crisis Intervention
- Various Housing Assistive Services – Community Action Council of Howard County (“CAC”)
- Intimate Partner Violence Services – HopeWorks of Howard County
- Continuum of Care (Operated by Department of Community Resources and Services)
- Housing Stability Subsidy Program (Operated by Bridges to Housing Stability)
- Moderate Income Housing Unit (MIHU) Program (Operated by Department of Housing and Community Development)