While most people have heard of Section 8 housing, very few know much about it. Basically, Section 8 is a federal housing program designed to ease the burden of paying rent for qualifying participants, including the elderly, disabled, and low-income families. Under the program, the government provides housing vouchers that will cover anywhere between 33-75% of rent costs.
For investors, the decision to participate in the Section 8 program is one that should be carefully considered. There are pros and cons to doing it, and before making a decision, you must fully understand these as well as learning as much as you can about the program and how it may affect your investment.
Here are some of things you need to know before accepting Section 8 tenants:
Even though Section 8 is a federal program, states, counties, and other municipalities can have a say in the matter. Some places, like Oregon, require landlords to accept Section 8 tenants, whether they want to be involved in the program or not. Other states, like Colorado, operate on an “opt-in” basis, meaning property owners can choose whether or not to take on Section 8 participants. Find out what your local laws are before moving forward.
Something else to keep in mind is that there’s a process that goes along with participation in Section 8, and because it’s a government program, that process can be a lengthy one. Meaning there’s a lot of red tape to cut through! The first step is to submit an application to participate. After that, your property will be subject to inspection in order to ensure it meets the standards required by Section 8. This includes being clean, safe, and meeting all building codes. If anything comes up during the inspection that needs repair or remediation, you’ll have to get it fixed before you can move forward. The local housing agency will also review your lease and compare your rental rates to that of other properties in your area. If you’re charging more than your neighbors, you may be required to lower your rent. Keep in mind that throughout this whole process, you’re also not making money on the property, as tenants cannot move in until everything has been approved by the housing agency.
- Guaranteed rent payments. You’re guaranteed to get rent each month – or at least the amount that Section 8 is covering.
- Long term tenants. Many tenants stay put for awhile because they have to file paperwork with Section 8 if they want to move, and this is hassle that most people would rather just avoid.
- Lengthy and potentially expensive approval process. The process takes a while, and if you have to make repairs, it can take even longer and get expensive too.
- Long term tenants. I know I listed this as a pro, and it generally is….unless you have crappy tenants.
- Crappy tenants. You run the risk of getting stuck with bad tenants who may damage your property or refuse to leave if they lose their voucher. Then you’re stuck with repairs and an eviction process.
- Rent control. Since Section 8 mandates that your rent be comparable with other similar properties in your area, you may be forced to lower it if they deem it too high.
If you own property in an area that doesn’t require Section 8 and you’re interested in pursuing it for your rental unit, make sure you’re armed with as much information as possible. The same goes if you are located in an area that forces you to accept Section 8 tenants. Get online, do some research, and find out how it may affect you. You should also talk to other investors who have experience in this area, and get their take on it. Nothing shines light on a matter quite like first hand experience.