How to Maintain Housing Assistance Benefits

Once you gain full entry into the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Section 8 housing program, there are tasks you must complete to stay eligible. When tenants enter into rental agreements with their landlords, they agree to a list of obligations that they must fulfill. These obligations also extend to their local public housing agencies (PHAs). In addition to maintaining the housing unit’s condition before moving in, tenants have responsibilities toward their landlord and neighbors. Any Section 8 tenant violations can leave program recipients at greater risk of being evicted, as well as losing their housing assistance benefits. 

Section 8 tenants must also abide by the regulations set by the public housing agency (PHA) in their area. This includes tasks such as reporting changes in income, submitting recertification documents and staying away from criminal activity. For more details on how recipients can maintain their Section 8 benefits, review the sections below. 

Report All Income and Employment Details 

The Section 8 housing program, officially known as the Housing Choice Voucher Program, has strict criteria for determining eligibility. The program caters to low-income families who are struggling to find adequate housing. Applicants must fall within one of three categories to qualify: low income, very low income or extremely low income. As Section 8 eligibility is strongly tied to income, local PHAs conduct regular recertification procedures to ensure that current recipients still qualify. 

The Section 8 income reporting requirements during the application process entail submitting income and employment details for all members who plan on living with the head of household. Once they receive full acceptance into the program and move into a housing unit, they must regularly submit recertification documents. Generally, this is done on a yearly basis. If tenants continuously miss recertification deadlines, they may lose their vouchers. The PHA may make exceptions for tenants with special circumstances and offer an extension to submit the documents. 

In addition to the yearly submission of documents, Section 8 tenants must notify the PHAs of changes in income or employment. This includes the head of household or any other family member moving out of the dwelling. The timeframe to submit the notification varies between agencies. Therefore, it is important that tenants remain aware of the regulations for their local PHA, as the Section 8 tenant rules may differ. 

Maintain the Unit’s Condition

One of the main ways to maintain your Section 8 benefits is by taking care of your housing unit. In some cases, when a landlord and tenant finalize a rental agreement, they do an initial walkthrough of the housing unit. This is to document the unit’s condition before the tenant moves in. The landlord may document the condition of the walls, appliances and furniture, if applicable. This protects both parties in the event of a disagreement regarding an item’s condition in the unit. Landlords who rent out housing to Section 8 tenants must provide dwellings that are safe and meet Section 8 standards. In turn, tenants must preserve the unit. This may entail:

  • Cleaning the unit and disposing of garbage regularly.
  • Reporting all safety or health hazards.
  • Submitting repair and maintenance requests.
  • Not damaging appliances.

Refrain from Criminal Activity

To maintain HUD benefits, Section 8 recipients agree to stay away from participating in criminal activity, especially in or around the housing unit. Section 8 tenant violations such as this can lead to a termination of benefits, in addition to legal troubles. Criminal activity refers to anything that is deemed illegal, including the use and distribution of drugs, as well as assault and fraud. It is important to note that this rule does not only include residents of the unit. It also applies to guests in the unit at the time of the criminal offense and all other people who are the tenant’s responsibility. Therefore, if tenants have guests partaking in illegal activities, and these guests are found guilty of the crime, tenants may face the termination of their Section 8 benefits. 

In these cases, the local PHA will evaluate the specific case in question to determine if termination is warranted. Based on how serious the offense is, the tenant’s involvement in the criminal activity and certain other factors, the agency will decide on the recipient’s case. If tenants show they have taken measures to amend the situation, such as entering a rehabilitation program, the agency may decide against the discontinuation of benefits. In addition, how the PHA handles the case will also differ if Section 8 tenants are facing a situation involving domestic violence. 

Respect the Rental Contract

The best way to ensure you will maintain your Section 8 housing benefits is by adhering to the rules outlined in the rental agreement. Before Section 8 tenants move into a housing unit, they must sign a contract. This document may outline everything from the rent payment method and time to procedures for reporting maintenance issues. 

Once you sign the agreement, you are bound by law and must respect all clauses defined in the contract. One of the biggest responsibilities tenants have during their lease term is paying their rent on time. It is generally due on the same day every month. In special circumstances, landlords may approve an extension. However, this is not always the case. If tenants are frequently late in making payments, this may affect their Section 8 benefits.

To keep your Section 8 housing benefits, you must also be respectful of neighboring tenants. While the rules for what this entails are not black and white, tenants must use their best judgement. Generally, this means that tenants must maintain a quiet and peaceful unit and avoid disrupting others. This can happen through loud music, frequent parties and constant noises. Not only can this attract the attention of law enforcement, but you may also receive complaints. Being disruptive is a Section 8 tenant violation that puts you at risk of eviction. In addition, this may affect your current housing voucher and your ability to receive housing assistance in the future.