How do you screen section 8 applicants?

18 Replies

There are lots of posts about the pros and cons of section 8 when searching the site.  What is the best way to screen section 8 applicants to ensure the best possible tenants in the program are approved?

Interview them before hand.I still want to make sure they are not crack addicts. Where i live a section 8 tenant can be a single mom, or disabled individual most of the time. I also want to clearly define expectations of use of the home. 

You screen them like anyone else. Call their existing landlord, look to see if there car is nasty inside, conduct a in home interview... Credit check.. No.. They all have awful credit.

People look at section 8 renters in two different ways:

1. Government leach
2. Getting your tax dollars back

I had one section 8 lady look at a property of mine.  She rolled up in a new Lexus SUV, designer hand bag, dressed to the 9 and complained about everything in the house.  When we walked out she said "I guess it'll do".  At this point I was pissed and used a few choice words to get her back in the car off my property.  That was the day I stopped renting to section 8 tenants.

I check there credit as well, I had a section 8 applicants  with 700's. Unfortunately it was after it was rented.

I figured credit would be pointless.  Criminal background check, evictions, some income, and a "gut feel" interview was what I was thinking.   I've never rented to section 8 or needed to rent to the progrgram.  I wanted to see how other section 8 landlords screened to increase their chances of drama free tenants.  

Such a great question, we always do a friendly home visit with all of our prospective tenants.  You wouldn't believe the living conditions we've seen over the years people will live in.  Then, they'll bring that same cleanliness or dirtiness over to your unit.  Never had a problem with people allowing me to stop by unless they're trying to hide something.  One time, I was visiting a prospective tenant the the current landlord was at the home doing a repair and he told me with wide eyes looking completely scared, "don't rent to this lady"..  So, that was a saving grace.  I'd love to see what others do?

It would be nice if there was a guide like the BP how to screen a tenant guide.  I'm sure some people on here are really smart about screening section 8 successfully. 

Originally posted by @Bryan N. :

I figured credit would be pointless.  ...

If you are just getting a credit score, then it is probably always going to be pointless. But if you get a full credit report, then you would realize the value of ALWAYS getting that full credit report. You see, that full report will contain an address history that you use in two ways. One, to verify honesty of applicant in supplying former addresses. But the second is way more important - you get to look up the owner at the time the applicant lived there and you discover what sort of tenant this was, AND you have more addresses to double check on possible evictions and convictions. 

The raw data is valuable if you understand how to utilize it ... a score by itself is almost meaningless ...

Originally posted by @Bryan N. :

@Steve Babiak

Thanks.  I always look at the full credit report. 

Then you would already know it's not pointless. And if you didn't already know the value, after reading my above post you do know now. 

Ok grumpy 

I've had a Section 8 resident for four years now. She's clean as a whistle, works full time at a menial, low paying job, and is never a pest. I would cry if I lost her. You cannot stereotype Section 8 residents any more accurately than classifying all steaks in the same group. It's kind of disheartening to see the disrespectful comments about our more downtrodden members of society. And no, she doesn't have 'awful' credit. I would screen them just as I would screen any other prospective resident. Why wouldn't you?

Medium house logo snowStephanie W. MBA, CFP, Willough~Penta Management Group, LLC | (540) 384‑0625

@Bryan N.

I think Marcia Maynard (sp?) has shared her criteria for Section 8 tenants in WA here on BP.  You might want to search her posts or the documents section on BP, I know she's said she has posted documents for people to see here on BP somewhere - or just reach out to her, as well as @Stephanie W.

I start with a telephone conversation to ascertain their needs to see if they are compatible with mine. They then fill out an application and if they pass income muster of 3x rent, including their HUD stipend, I run full credit check and criminal history. I go visit them at thei current residence then verify their employment history and income. Lastly I sit down with them over coffee and have a conversation. I have declined people because their values and outlook didn't mesh with mine even though their financial situation was acceptable and I've accepted people that I've believed in with questionable past decisions. It doesn't matter if they're Section 8 prospects or not. I have six properties and 8 doors. Two doors are Section 8 approved.

Medium house logo snowStephanie W. MBA, CFP, Willough~Penta Management Group, LLC | (540) 384‑0625

A few thoughts, as my day job is working with folks on a similar voucher program:

-Credit scores aren't very descriptive, credit reports can be. That said, my favorite landlords are the ones that have a conversation about why someone may have an ugly report. Is it because they walked away from debt because they're a deadbeat (and will likely do so with the rent someday) or is there something like a divorce, injury/sickness or job loss that wrecked their credit. I work with plenty of folks that fall into both categories. 

-ALWAYS SCREEN FOR EVICTIONS. I can count on one hand the number of times I'd personally rent to any of my clients that have a previous eviction on their record. If things have gone south badly enough to have someone file at some point in the past, I'd say that's a 95% chance they'll be a huge pain. Its almost always an indication that they don't have a good skill set for maintaining stable housing. The exceptions I've seen are almost exclusively elderly folks that were evicted after their trigger happy landlord didn't realize they were in the hospital, and instead of filing for abandonment, filed for eviction. Like I said, few and far between (but it does happen). 

-Always meet in person. Many folks with vouchers will have had rough lives or disabilities that prevent them from being social in the ways we might expect from peers. That IS NOT an indication that they'll be bad tenants. What is an indication is the details they share when you're conversing. Do they talk about the fact they like to use their webber grill indoors? Do they talk about the fact that they've withheld rent from landlords? Do they talk about the fact they want to do motorcycle maintenance in the living room? (all things I've heard my clients say in walkthroughs). THOSE are indications that they'll probably be tough to deal with that won't come out on a credit report or application. Now, just because they ask about things that you don't allow in your unit (grilling outside, smoking, etc.) doesn't mean they'll be a pain, use your judgement.

-Don't mandate 3x income for voucher holders. It is one of the silliest ideas I know, and its illegal in some areas (usually covered in an "income discrimination" statute that includes vouchers). The entire point of the voucher is that folks with them don't make enough money to afford rent on their own. The amount of assistance the voucher provides ensures that they will never pay more than ~1/3 of their income towards rent and utilities, even if their income changes. The math is a bit heavy to get into here, but a person who meets a 3x rule when you include the subsidy of the voucher is almost always close to being over income for a voucher. You're cutting out the bottom 90% of folks, which include many excellent tenants. One possible exception is a person with less than $150 of income per month. I've had fine tenants that live meager lives on $0-$150 a month, but life is definitely hard and not glamorous. Make sure someone in that situation has good outside supports (such as a social worker, strong family support, etc) to ensure small bumps in the road don't derail everything. The PHA will actually send the tenants a check every month, if their income is low enough, for them to pay their non-included utilities. People can definitely make it work, but be extra careful to pick out the ones that can. 

-Criminal History. Definitely get one, but much like the credit report, be prepared to take things with a grain of salt. MANY poor folks get tagged with a lot of crimes simply because they're poor and in the wrong places. Now, the felon with multiple armed robberies is not one of those people. The guy who has a drug possession charge from a few years back that he pled no contest to because he couldn't afford bail and needed to get out of jail to get back to his minimum wage job to support his kids, he has a good chance of being fine. 

Bottom line is don't penalize folks with vouchers for being poor in your screening process. That happens a ton already. Otherwise, screen as you would for any other tenant: thoroughly!

Good Luck!

Originally posted by @Bradley Bogdan :

A few thoughts, as my day job is working with folks on a similar voucher program:

...

-Don't mandate 3x income for voucher holders. It is one of the silliest ideas I know, and its illegal in some areas (usually covered in an "income discrimination" statute that includes vouchers). The entire point of the voucher is that folks with them don't make enough money to afford rent on their own. The amount of assistance the voucher provides ensures that they will never pay more than ~1/3 of their income towards rent and utilities, even if their income changes. The math is a bit heavy to get into here, but a person who meets a 3x rule when you include the subsidy of the voucher is almost always close to being over income for a voucher. You're cutting out the bottom 90% of folks, which include many excellent tenants. One possible exception is a person with less than $150 of income per month. I've had fine tenants that live meager lives on $0-$150 a month, but life is definitely hard and not glamorous. Make sure someone in that situation has good outside supports (such as a social worker, strong family support, etc) to ensure small bumps in the road don't derail everything. The PHA will actually send the tenants a check every month, if their income is low enough, for them to pay their non-included utilities. People can definitely make it work, but be extra careful to pick out the ones that can. 

-Criminal History. Definitely get one, but much like the credit report, be prepared to take things with a grain of salt. MANY poor folks get tagged with a lot of crimes simply because they're poor and in the wrong places. Now, the felon with multiple armed robberies is not one of those people. The guy who has a drug possession charge from a few years back that he pled no contest to because he couldn't afford bail and needed to get out of jail to get back to his minimum wage job to support his kids, he has a good chance of being fine. 

...

So, we then raise the question: how do you word your tenant acceptance / rejection criteria so as to allow for monthly gross income to be less than 3x monthly rent without discriminating against the non-voucher tenant?  Likewise for criminal record - how to allow for some exceptions?

Check with a Lawyer but I assume a simple * and a foot note that exempts voucher holders from this criteria would be sufficient.

Originally posted by @Kevin Harrison :

Check with a Lawyer but I assume a simple * and a foot note that exempts voucher holders from this criteria would be sufficient.

 That's exactly how I've seen it done, just an added line or footnote indicating that folks with a voucher are exempt as the voucher ensures their portion of rent meets the criteria. 

As for the criminal stuff, that's always sticky to word unless you're rejecting anyone with any charges ever.