Does a Massachusetts landlord have to approve a Section 8 applicant? No, so long as the reason for the rejection is not the Section 8 voucher. Landlords are required by state law to participate in the Section 8 program, if a Section 8 voucher holder is the most qualified applicant. That does not mean you have to approve the rental application for anyone just because they have a Section 8 voucher. You can reject their application for the same reasons you would reject other applicants, so long as the reason is genuinely unrelated to their receipt of public assistance.
SECTION 8 IN A NUTSHELL
The Section 8 program guarantees that a renter will pay no more than one-third of their income to rent. The caveat here is rent reasonableness. The program will look at your unit – what it is and where it is – and determine if the rent you are asking for is reasonable. If it is reasonable, a Section 8 applicant automatically passes a rental screen requiring a 3x income to rent ratio. If you require a minimum credit score, no criminal record, no eviction history, or anything else that is unrelated to income or the Section 8 program, you can review the applicant on those grounds and reject if they fail. Make sure you are using an objective applicant scoring system consistent for all applicants for that vacancy.
VALID REASONS FOR REJECTING APPLICANTS
“We require a minimum score of X.”(Credit is not a protected class. Note that rejecting for credit requires that you issue an adverse action letter.)
“You were just evicted.” (Housing history is not a protected class.)
“You don’t have the cash to pay the security deposit.” (Section 8 alone does not cover security deposits.)
“You smoke.” (Applies if you don’t allow smoking for this unit. Smokers are not a protected class.)
“You have a violent felony conviction in the last three years.” If this is your written policy, you can rejectf or recent and/or violent convictions material to housing.)
“Another applicant passed and provided move-in monies.” (Just make sure you process the Section 8 applicationas fast as possible.)
UNLAWFUL DISCRIMINATION AGAINST A SECTION 8 APPLICANT
“Income isn’t 3x rent.” (The program ensures a 3x rent ratio.)
“This unit hasn’t passed inspection.” (All units are inspected, and you can’t turn someone away because you don’t want an inspection.)
“This unit is not deleaded.” (You must delead.)
“I hate XYZ administrator.” (You can’t turn someone away because of any requirement of the program, including working with a bad bureaucracy.)
“I only do month-to-month leases.” (If the Section 8 voucher administrator requires a one- or two-year lease, you can’t turn the applicant away on the basis of that requirement).
NON-REJECTIONS THAT MAY BE INTERPRETED AS DISCRIMINATION
You might be happier renting another unit or from another landlord.” (So-called “steering” of applicants is unlawful. Let the applicant decide what will make them happy.)
“We are still accepting applications, we haven’t processed yours yet.” (Deliberately slow-playing Section 8 so that a market applicant gets the apartment is not allowed.)
“I’ll rent to you but for a higher rent than I advertised.” (To negotiate the rent up you must have a valid reason unrelated to Section 8.)
“The apartment is no longer for rent.” (If you say this, it had better be true. You can’t take it off the market the minute a Section 8 renter applies and put it back on the market when a non-Section 8 renter calls.)
“I’ll rent to you but only if you get rid of your dog.” (If you would take a dog from a non-Section 8 renter, you have to take a dog from a Section 8 renter as well.)
SECTION 8 SCREENING CONCLUSION
You can reject an applicant with Section 8 if – and only if – the reason is genuinely unrelated to the program or any requirement of the program. Do not discriminate against applicants on the basis of Section 8, and do not try to disguise a discriminatory practice as non-discriminatory.
So be careful considering income, as the program ensures a 3x rent ratio. Be careful of steering or slow playing, as well. Finally, remember that just because someone receives a subsidy does not mean that they would be a bad tenant. If any of us were to fall on hard times, we would be glad of the safety net to catch us. Screen carefully and pick the best applicant regardless of how the rent is to be paid.
Should you find yourself unable to secure an apartment because you possess a Section 8 voucher, contact the Law Offices of Renee Lazar at 978-844-4095 to schedule a FREE one hour no obligation consultation.