How do you screen Section 8 tenants?

1 Reply

Hey folks,

I'm starting to make my rental units available for Section 8 tenants.

Based on the research I've done, it seems that a standard credit check might not always be appropriate; after all, many Section 8 tenants simply won't have stellar credit. However, in the case of Section 8, this isn't necessarily a good reason to deny them tenancy.

I have read of some landlords actually going over to visit the Section 8 applicant's current home, to ensure they treat their living spaces well. I'm uncomfortable with this because it seems rudely intrusive. (Is it even legal?) It's also a significant amount of additional work for my property manager.

Do you have other suggestions for how to do a good background check for Section 8?

Thanks!

@Noam Birnbaum , yes I have lots to say on this!  Section 8 is all I do.  I have a meticulous screening process and have really good tenants who take care of my properties.

First and foremost in big bold letters because it's super important- YOU MUST TREAT ALL APPLICANTS THE SAME SO THAT YOU DON'T HAVE A FAIR HOUSING ISSUE.  You can't have a different screening process for Section 8 tenants than market tenants, is what I mean.  

With 1 exception - source of income with which you pay rent.  So, you could require 3x the rent for market tenants and have a different standard for Section 8 tenants because their source of income is covered.  I still require my S8 tenants to have at least $1000 income (my average rent is about $1060 so it's close to 1 months rent).

So set your standard for credit - it doesn't have to require a set credit score.  Instead, I require mostly positive payment history in the last 2 years, no recent bankruptcies, no collections to previous landlords, and if they owe $ to the utility companies, it's got to paid before I will move forward. 

A home visit is the last step of my screening process.  It was when I took market tenants too.  A large RE firm here in St. Louis has over 250 doors and take no Section 8 and they do home visits too.  I can't recommend this step enough.  You will not completely know how your place will look when the tenants leave unless you see how they live now.  I've declined 4 applicants in the last year due to the home visit.  They had great landlord references, solid credit history, etc. but their houses were disgusting.  The prior landlords or PMs often hadn't been in them for years so they really had no idea.

Conversely, I've approved 3 different tenants who met my screening criteria but weren't as strong as the declines on paper.  However, they kept meticulous care of their current properties and are some of my best tenants.

I make clear in my initial paperwork, in the rental listing, etc. that a home visit is required in the screening.  I've only had 1 person refuse and it was because she was living with her grandma who didn't want strangers in the house due to COVID.  She probably would've been a great tenant but i'll never know because we just won't move forward without it.

One more thing - here, there are very few PMs (in fact, maybe none) who are good with Section 8.  It's a great program but it does require some extra legwork and paperwork, especially up front.  So I'd just recommend to make sure your PM has extensive, successful experience with Section 8.

I answer lots of questions on here about Section 8 so feel free to check my profile and the answers to other questions that you may not know to ask yet.

Good luck!