Civil Rights or Property Rights? Section 8 Voucher Q & A

Section-8 The Kirkland City Council is considering passing an ordinance which would prohibit a landlord from refusing to rent to a tenant solely based upon the applicant’s use of Section 8 Housing Vouchers. In practice, such an ordinance would place the government between landlord and tenant and grant rights to tenants which are currently held by landlords. Once under the Section 8 program, a landlord is compelled to abide by a series of government-mandated rules, regulations, timelines and inspections. The Section 8 program prescribes many of the terms under which a landlord must conduct business with a tenant.

Civil Rights or Property Rights?

The City of Kirkland is in full spin mode on this issue. The Council wants to pass this measure with as little public opposition as possible. The use of phrases such as "non-discrimination" are used in an effort to imply that income level is a protected class equivalent to sex, race and gender. In my opinion, this is not a civil rights issue. It is a property rights issue. Of course, reasonable people may disagree.

The City has released several public notices on this subject and an informational meeting is being held Feb. 26, 7-8:30 p.m., Kirkland City Hall, Peter Kirk Room, 123 5th Avenue to assuage public opposition of the measure. Regardless of one's position on this issue, I recommend that all interested parties attend this meeting.

Q & A for Landlords

The following questions and answers are a sample from the King County Housing Authority website. They describe the procedures by which a landlord must abide if they take part in the Section 8 Housing Voucher program. The landlord must comply with government inspections, regulations and timelines as described below.

KCHA requires an initial inspection before you can rent to a tenant with a voucher. If the unit does not pass, you must fix all failed items before the tenant moves in. KCHA must also inspect units rented to Section 8 tenants at least once every 12 months. In most cases, if the unit fails they will give you 14 to 30 days to make the repairs. KCHA may allow more time if the unit needs major repairs. You must fix failed items considered life-threatening within 24 hours, per federal law.

Can I raise a tenant's rent after the first 12-month lease ends?

Yes. The process takes three steps:

  • You provide 60-day written notice to the tenant and KCHA.
  • KCHA determines if the new rent is reasonable. If you operate a large apartment complex you must provide at least three rent comparables for recently rented, non-Section 8 units.
  • KCHA calculates the tenant and KCHA portions of the rent. We notifiy you and the tenant of the new amounts in writing within 30 days.

The Housing Authority views rent changes as month-to-month agreements. Signing a new lease is a transaction between you and the tenant.

I'm considering rent increases. The first unit to receive an increase is rented by a Section 8 tenant. Their rent would be higher than the other units. Is this ok?

If the new rent will apply to all tenants, then yes. You may also need to provide rent comparables for similar units in the area when you request an increase. In addition, KCHA will review the new rent using the Dupre and Scott Survey's Rent Reasonableness Checklist. We take these steps to ensure that it is not charged more than market rate. KCHA requires 60-day written notice for any rent increase.

Are tenants required to stay in a unit for 12 months after transferring?

Yes. Every new unit requires a 12-month lease.

Can a tenant add a roommate to their lease?

Yes, but the person must meet one of four criteria. They must be:

  • Related to the head of household by blood.
  • Legally adopted, with court custody papers.
  • The domestic partner of the head of household.
  • Disabled, with verification of their disability status and income.

KCHA must approve any person before you add them to the tenant's lease. We will verify their relationship to the tenant and run a background check. KCHA will also confirm their income and citizenship. Adding anyone to the lease requires your written approval.

What should I do if a tenant can't pay their rent?

Provide to their senior housing specialist a copy of any notices served. The specialist can help refer the tenant to other financial options. If the tenant has lost income, they must report the change to KCHA. Once verified, we may lower their portion of the rent. This change can happen as soon as the next month.

Can I evict a tenant with a voucher?

Yes. You have the same rights with voucher-holders as with other tenants. You can evict a tenant who breaks the terms of their lease, although you must have cause to end the lease during the first year. Cause is not needed if the tenant does not sign a new lease after the first year. You must issue all eviction notices as called for by the lease and local and state law.

Does KCHA cover unpaid utility bills after a tenant moves out?

KCHA cannot cover unpaid utility bills. However, you should notify us if the tenant has an unpaid balance and has not yet moved out. This allows KCHA to enforce payment from the tenant. Tenants who fail to pay their utility bills face possible termination from the program.

If a tenant moves but still owes me money, can they use their voucher again?

It depends. KCHA will hold the tenant accountable if you take them to court and receive a judgment. We may also terminate tenants from the program for serious or repeated lease violations. Unpaid rent or utilities are the two violations that most often lead to eviction.