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Housing Vouchers: What Do You Do?

Posted By: Sean Martin Leasing , Section 8 ,

Unless you own the Taj Mahal or another very expensive property, someone will eventually approach you using a housing voucher from one of several programs. This is not a bad thing, nor a good thing. It’s a part of the business of being a landlord, and each type of voucher presents different opportunities.

Vouchers can come from a variety of sources, and in all sizes. Section 8 – funded by the federal government and dispersed by local housing authorities – is likely the most well-known, but a number of other non-profits offer housing assistance payments.

Housing and Essential Needs (HEN) vouchers are one such other option. DSHS (Department of Social and Health Services) qualifies people for HEN; Catholic Community Services then provides these services to King County eligible participants.

There are other programs which fund temporary vouchers for emergency housing assistance to either prevent homelessness, or to quickly transition someone into housing and off of the streets.

Your approach to any of these types of voucher programs depends upon a multitude of factors, but none is more important to know than the local “source of income” protections that may be in place in the jurisdiction your property is located.

Some cities and counties don’t offer additional protections for renters based on the source of their income – for landlords in those areas, you may choose to simply say you don’t participate with the voucher program and go on your way. Some cities and counties, however, offer protection to Section 8 voucher holders, or go even further to protect all legal sources of income.

If your rental is located in one of the jurisdictions where Section 8 is a protected class, you cannot refuse to rent to an applicant on the basis of them using a Section 8 voucher. If your rental is located in one of the jurisdictions where “source of income” in general is protected, then the landlord obligation is extended to include – in most cases – all legal sources of income, including short-term vouchers.

Voucher payments can carry with them positives and negatives. On the plus side, the voucher is a guarantee of rent payment by a reputable third-party organization. However, those payment arrangements carry with them additional agreements and requirements for the owner, including an inspection of the rental property.

When evaluating an applicant who is using a housing voucher to meet your financial qualifications, in a jurisdiction with source of income protections, you must consider that as a part of their total monthly income. Some cities, such as Seattle legislate this process a step further by allowing landlords to only use income to rent ratio qualifiers on the portion of the rent the tenant pays out of pocket, versus the entire monthly rent amount.

For more information on housing vouchers and their impact on operating your rental property consider attending RHAWA’s Fair Housing class. Go to www.rhawa.org/events for complete class information.