Housing Choice Vouchers – Subsidized Housing
Families who participate in the Housing Choice Voucher Program use vouchers issued by local Housing Authorities (HA) to rent privately-owned apartments or houses from landlords approved by the HA. Families sign leases with landlords, just as they would in private housing, and the HA pays a portion of the family’s rent.
The government helps pay for housing under specific circumstances. This is called “subsidized housing,” and there are several different types of programs available. The most common subsidized housing programs are: Public Housing, Housing Choice Voucher, Project-Based Section 8, Section 202, and Low-Income Housing Tax Credit.
Each year, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) sets family income limits that determine your eligibility for financial assistance. The rights and obligations you have as a tenant will depend on the subsidized housing program. If you are not sure which subsidized housing program applies to you, check your lease, contact your landlord, local Housing Authority, the Florida Housing Finance Corporation, or the CLS Helpline at 800-405-1417.
WHAT ARE YOUR RIGHTS?
You have the right to receive written notice of any adverse decision made against you by the HA or landlord.
You have the right to request an informal grievance hearing to dispute any adverse decision made against you by the HA.
You have the right to review any evidence the HA plans to use against you at an informal grievance hearing.
You have the right to copy documents in your HA file by paying a small fee.
You have the right to be represented by an attorney at an informal grievance hearing or eviction hearing.
You have the right to testify, present evidence, and ask questions to any witnesses during an informal grievance hearing or eviction hearing.
You have the right to receive a written final decision of the informal grievance hearing.
You have the right to complain to the HA, landlord, local code enforcement, or HUD about the conditions of your unit.
Due to the limited number of available vouchers, eligible families are often placed on a waiting list. Local HAs have established policies for opening, closing, selecting, and removing families from waiting lists. Those policies cannot discriminate based on color, disability, familial status, national origin, race, religion, or sex.
Generally, HAs publish waiting lists online, in their offices, or in local newspapers.
Families who are denied admission into the Housing Choice Voucher Program must receive written notice from the HA explaining the reason for the denial. If you believe you were unfairly denied admission, you may submit a written request for an informal grievance hearing.
The HA may deny you admission for one or more of the following reasons:
- You have participated in illegal drug use;
- You have participated in criminal activity or alcohol abuse that threatens the health and safety of residents;
- You have been evicted for serious violations of the lease;
- You have been evicted from federally assisted housing within the last 5 years;
- Your assistance has been previously terminated by an HA; or
- You currently owe rent or other amounts to an HA.
Because admission rules for the Housing Choice Voucher Program are not uniform within a state, county, or city, local HAs must adopt a written Administrative Plan, establishing rules for their program, in accordance with HUD regulations. The Administrative Plan must be made available to the public.
Families pay their portion of the monthly rent directly to the landlord and the HA pays the rest. A family’s portion of the rent is 30% of their adjusted monthly income (explained below), minus any utility allowance.
Utility allowances are determined by HUD each year to help you pay the cost of utilities not included in your rent.
Utility allowances are based on current rates and average consumption studies, not on your family’s actual consumption.
The HA determines your adjusted monthly income by subtracting allowable deductions from your gross annual income, and then dividing that amount by 12.
Your gross annual income includes work wages, salaries, overtime pay, commissions, fees, tips, bonuses, and pay you receive for personal services. It also includes:
- Net income from a business if you are self-employed;
- Net income from real estate or personal property: rent, interest, dividends, or capital gains (profit);
- Periodic payments you receive from Social Security, annuities, insurance policies, retirement funds, pensions, disability or death benefits, and other similar types of periodic income;
- Unemployment and disability compensation, worker’s compensation, and severance pay (income from an employer where you no longer work;
- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF);
- Alimony and child support; and
- Regular cash donations and gifts.
Mandatory deductions are listed below. Local HAs may adopt additional deductions. If so, they will be published in the Administrative Plan.
- $480 for each dependent;
- $400 for any elderly or disabled family member;
- A deduction for childcare expenses necessary to enable a family member to go to work or school;
- Unreimbursed medical expenses for any elderly or disabled family member, if the amount is more than 3% of the family’s annual income;
- Childcare expenses necessary to enable a family member to go to work or school.
For additional information on local housing options and the most up-to-date income limits go to HUD’s Florida page: https://www.hud.gov/states/florida
Each year, the HA will complete an annual recertification to determine if your family is still eligible to participate in the program. During recertification, you must provide all income documents requested by the HA. Your family or the HA may also request an interim recertification when there is an increase or decrease in your family’s income.
These income changes may affect the amount of rent you pay or the unit size you are eligible for. If your family’s income increases enough to afford housing on the private market, the HA may decide you are no longer eligible for the program.
Landlords cannot terminate your family’s voucher, only the HA. However, the HA must have good cause to terminate a family’s voucher.
Termination notices must be in writing, specifically describe the alleged violation, and inform you of your right to request an informal grievance hearing.
Common examples of “good cause” include:
- Nonpayment of rent or other amounts you were supposed to pay;
- Criminal conviction for selling or making drugs on the premises of any federally assisted housing property;
- Engaging in drug-related criminal activity on or off the premises;
- Engaging in criminal activity that threatens the health and safety of other residents or staff;
- Using illegal drugs or abusing alcohol;
- People who are living with you who are not listed on your voucher;
- Lying or committing fraud during the application or recertification process;
- Failing to promptly notify the HA of changes in your family size or income; and
- Failing to complete recertification on time.
The HA cannot terminate your lease, only the landlord. If your lease has not expired, the landlord must have good cause to terminate your lease.
Common examples of “good cause” include nonpayment of rent or serious or repeated violations of the lease. Keep in mind, good cause is only necessary to terminate your lease — The landlord may choose to not renew your lease after it expires without providing good cause.
Termination notices must be in writing and specifically describe the alleged violation.
Depending on the violation, families will get 7 to 30 days to correct the problem. However, state or federal law may not allow any opportunity to correct it at all.
WHAT DO YOU NEED TO DO?
Carefully review your lease, the grievance procedure, and any notices you receive from the HA or landlord.
Request copies of any evidence the HA plans to use against you at an informal grievance hearing.
If you have received a termination notice from your landlord and you do not leave by the date specified in the notice, your landlord must file an eviction case to remove you from the unit. The eviction summons and complaint may be personally delivered to you or posted on your door by the sheriff or a certified process server. This is called “service of process.” The clerk may also send you a copy of the summons and complaint by mail.
You must write and file a response with the court within 5 days of receiving the summons and complaint. If you do not file a response with the court on time, your landlord may automatically win the eviction.
In your response, admit or deny each paragraph of the complaint and raise any defenses.
The “court’s registry” is like a bank account the court uses during your eviction case. While your case is pending before the court, you must deposit rent into the court’s registry each month when it is due.
If you disagree with the amount of rent the landlord claims you owe, you may ask the court to schedule a hearing to determine the correct amount. Supporting documentation must be attached to your response, such as proof of payment.
If you do not deposit rent into the court’s registry on time or ask the court to determine the correct amount of rent you owe, your landlord may automatically win the eviction.
In an eviction case, your landlord is the Plaintiff and you are the Defendant. Raising defenses in your response may keep you from being evicted. Below is a list of common defenses that may apply to your situation.
The person who filed the eviction complaint (the Plaintiff) lacks standing. This means the Plaintiff does not have the right to file the complaint with the court. This defense is commonly used if the landlord does not actually own the property.
The eviction is moot. This means the eviction is no longer relevant because you have already moved out.
You are withholding rent after you timely provided a 7-Day Notice. Your 7-Day Notice to the landlord must specify the repairs needed and your intention to withhold rent if they are not completed within 7 days. Please visit our Renters’ Rights and Evictions section for more information.
You did not receive a notice from the landlord as required by law. This means the landlord did not give you written notice of the violation before filing an eviction case with the court.
The notice you received from the landlord demands money that is not considered rent or additional rent in your lease.
The notice is confusing or contains conflicting instructions.
The notice does not provide enough time for you to correct the violation.
The notice does not provide enough information for you to understand the violation.
The landlord does not maintain the unit after you timely provided a 7-Day Notice.
The landlord engages in retaliatory conduct. This means the landlord increases your rent, decreases services to you, or files/threatens to file an eviction case against you, in response to you exercising your rights as a tenant.
If your landlord wins the eviction, the sheriff will serve you with a 24-hour notice to leave the unit. This is called a “Writ of Possession.” If you do not leave the unit within 24 hours, your landlord may change the locks and remove your personal property.
WHAT TO CONSIDER BEFORE TAKING ACTION?
Be sure to submit a written request for an informal grievance hearing by the deadline stated in the notice.
Be prepared to present all evidence (documents, emails, reports, witnesses, etc.) that support your position during an informal grievance hearing or eviction hearing.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Housing Choice Vouchers Fact Sheet: https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/public_indian_housing/programs/hcv/about/fact_sheet
To find your local Public Housing Agency: https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/public_indian_housing/pha/contacts
For additional information on local housing options and income limits go to HUD’s Florida page: https://www.hud.gov/states/florida