Section 8 tenant that is breaking the lease

7 Replies

Hey all! My wife and I have a duplex that we rent here in Kansas City. On one side of the duplex, we rent to a Section 8 tenant. We have run into a bit of an issue.

The tenant is a single woman, around 55 years old. The issue that we are having is that she has been in the unit for 3 months now, and has yet to change the water bill into her name. We have repeatedly reminded her that she needs to get the water bill put into her name. The last few months, we have been simply forwarding the water bill to her and she has been paying us the amount of the water bill. A few weeks ago we firmly told her that she needs to have the water bill changed into her name by June 1st, no exceptions. 

Our concern is that she may accidentally run the water bill up to a few hundred dollars and then tell us she is unable to pay it. The lease clearly states that the tenant is required to get all bills changed into their name. 

The other issue (though not as major) is that she recently asked us when we would be sending someone by to mow the lawn. We reminded her that before she had moved in, we told her that she would have to be taking care of the lawn. We also emailed her the digital copy of the lease that she signed, and highlighted the part that states "the tenant is responsible for the upkeep of the lawn... etc". 

Her response was "oh, well I must have overlooked that when I signed the lease. I don't make enough to pay someone to do it, and since I am on disability, I can't do it myself. I will not be mowing the lawn."

These are only two of the many issues that we have had with this tenant, and frankly, we are fed up. We have tried contacting the local Section 8 office to try and find out how to proceed with evicting the tenant. Unfortunately, after 3 weeks and over 6 phone messages, we have yet to get any response from them. 

How do we proceed from here?

Never ever give the tenant keys until they have PROOF that all utilities are on in her name.  You gave her the keys, so you are stuck with the water bill, you are lucky that she is actually paying you for it.

And in Kansas City it really does not matter.  If the bill is in your name and she pays you for it great.  If it is in her name, and she quits paying, it will revert to your name anyway, they will not shut if off and they will start billing you.  She has not turned the water on in her name, probably because she has a huge bill she walked on somewhere else.

As to mowing the yard - if she is not going to mow it, she is not going to mow it.  You can't force her, but the city can force you to mow it.

So, your options are to evict her because she is not living up to her lease or see if you really like the section 8 income enough to eat the water bill and the mowing of the yard.

Many of the Section 8 landlords I know have a mowing crew that mow all houses and any more include the water bill - and just raise the rent as high as Section 8 will allow.

As to the city billing landlords for unpaid water and sewer in KC, they have done it for years. There was a bill introduced in the Missouri House this year to make that illegal, but it did not go anywhere. Also make sure you have your rentals registered and be aware that Independence new Rental Ready Program starts in June and Kansas City is proposing a horrendous new rental licensing and inspection ordinance that we may see on the ballot in November. . . . be sure to join the local landlord and REIA groups to stay up to date on the legal issues in the KC Metro.

First step is for you to learn your landlord tenant regulations. You are operating a business and must know the law. Once you have learned the codes you will know how to proceed. Each jurisdiction is different.

So far you have not been professional with your approach to this tenant. Regarding the water you ask her once to do the transfer to her name and after that you give official notice to cure or quit, same applies to all lease violations. 

For the grass tell her you will be hiring a contractor and the cost will be billed to her if she does not cut the grass herself.

She will be provided X days to comply or you proceed with the eviction.

You do not ever ask a tenant the same thing twice, ask once then give official state specific notice.

You will need to get rid of this tenant and in the future you would be best served not renting to section 8.

Thanks for the responses guys. I agree with you that thus far, we have made a few key mistakes with managing this tenant.

We would like to evict this tenant, but like I said, we have contacted section 8 numerous times and haven't been able to reach them.

Does anyone have any advice on how to proceed from here?
Should we go into the section 8 office in person?
Should we continue trying to contact different people (ie, our case workers supervisor) and keep going up the ladder till we reach someone?

In regards to the lawn, Section 8 only pays for the rent and does not cover lawn care.  As such,  you can state that lawn care is a free service provided by the landlord and just raise the rent by the lawn care amount.  Also, stating it is a free service should theoretically attract more tenants.  

Remember that a big reason people rent (other than the fact they cant afford to buy) is because they want to live "maintenance" free, so advertise it that way!

You should absolutely go to the section 8 office in person.  It may due you some good to even contact the main office in DC.  Section 8 is a wonderful program that helps low income people obtain decent rentals at a price they can afford.  In return for renting to a section 8 participant you are give certain considerations.  I know that if you include utility's you will be able to charge the max amount of the rental.  As for the lawn, it's in your best interest to keep up the  lawn, like someone said look into a lawn service to do the mowing and add that to the rent. When you get a new tenant  in the rental, offer a small stipend to the new tenant if you don't want to hire a lawn care service. 30 dollars is a lot of money to a lot of people. Of course these are only suggestions, but I know landlords who would give there eye teeth to fill there rentals with section 8 tenants.  It's just a matter of screening and what kind of tenant your looking for. If you find a tenant that's a good fit for the rental and the rent is guaranteed what more could you ask. Just one persons thoughts'. Best of luck to you. 

Hi @Sean Thompson . I'd actually recommend against going to the Section 8 office in person. Unless you have an appointment - you won't actually be able to speak with anyone about your issue (they're pretty strict about walk-in issues, and for good reason). This will only serve to waste valuable time, and you can be assured that the issues you raise with the front-office staff will not be sent to the appropriate channels. As far as getting no traction with your phone calls/emails - I understand completely. The HAKC is just.... not good about responsiveness (or doing their jobs properly in general). That's OK though.... what you're experiencing is not a "Section 8 issue", but rather a "Landlord-Tenant issue" - and you should handle it accordingly (without involving the HAKC). 

As for the water: best you continue paying this, as what @Kim Tucker has said is true - you'll be responsible for paying it regardless - so best not to let a large bill accumulate. Simply send the tenant a bill every month for the amount due, and continue to collect payment. As far as how to handle this in the future - I'll simply re-iterate what you've already been told (and what you've probably already learned), that you should get confirmation prior to Lease-signing that all utilities have been transferred into the tenant(s) name. 

As for the mowing, handle this much the same way - send a notice that grass has become too high to be within City Standards, and if it is not mowed within 48 hours you will mow it. Then.... mow it. Each time you mow, send the tenant an invoice for work performed - and keep a running balance. Once that balance has become sufficiently high - send the tenant a 3-day Pay/Quit notice, and if the balance is not paid - file for eviction. This will cost you a bit of money (use a lawyer, please), but I guarantee you that once the tenant has been served with a summons to appear in Court - the phone calls/emails will start pouring in (from your Tenant & their Program Specialist with the HAKC). That's OK... because you'll be on the right side of the law in everything you've done thus far. I don't care that the Tenant "overlooked" the section about lawn care when signing the Lease Agreement. I don't care that they're disabled (no, I'm not a horrible person - and neither are you) - they're a functioning adult capable of making their own decisions... and they signed on the dotted line. That's a legally-binding Contract that will be held up in Court all day long. A Judge will agree that the tenant is responsible for reimbursing you the costs of lawn care, and that it is a perfectly valid cause for eviction (non-payment of outstanding costs). 

Please don't be afraid to track this situation accordingly, and file for eviction if necessary. I've got a great local attorney that's fantastic at what he does, and I've handled the exact situation you're in. PM me for additional advice if you're concerned. Bottom line - you are in the right (stay that way), and your tenant is in the wrong... a Court will see that plain as day if it comes to it. My guess is that it won't - 99% of Section 8 tenants "play ball" when faced with a potential Court proceeding or the loss of their Voucher. 

Ultimately, this sounds like small potatoes in the grand scheme of things... but I get that my small potatoes may be a giant thorn in the side to you. Be mindful of the Law, adhere to your Lease - and don't be afraid to enforce it if necessary. Cheers!

@Sean Thompson

You got great advice from landlords in your jurisdiction. I would add a little strategy to what @Jason Moore has said. Your tenant seems to want 2 things from you. First, you prepay her water and she is fine with reimbursing you. Second, she wants nothing to do with lawn care. Tackle the water issue first and agree to prepay the bill since you would end up doing it anyway if the tenant doesn't pay. But put this new arrangement into an addendum to the lease so that in case the tenant stops reimbursing you, it is a lease violation and grounds for eviction. If you keep on paying her bill without the addendum, you open the door for her to accept it as a landlord service. That makes a big difference in front of the magistrate. Once she has signed the water bill addendum, you are free to solve the lawn issue the way that suits you best. Whatever you decide to do, your tenant cannot withhold the water payment to you as leverage without risking eviction and loss of voucher.