As a real estate agent I represent buyers and sellers as well as tenants and landlords. Frequently a prospective tenant will contact me about an available rental they saw on my website or the Internet, and one of the first questions they ask is, “Do you accept Section 8?”

A fair but incorrect question

Man wonderingThis is a common concern and carries with it common misunderstandings that I’d like to address. Knowing the facts will benefit tenants who are applying for a lease, allowing them to be better prepared with information and answers once they start speaking with landlords.

The first item to get out of the way is that I am a real estate agent, not a landlord. I understand why tenants ask me this question: they may be looking at apartment complexes as well as listings by individual property owners, and it’s not always clear that I am the real estate agent representing the owner, not the owner himself. The owner-landlord will make a decision regarding individual lease applications; my job is to facilitate the transaction, keep all parties informed, and insure that all township codes are met and proper documents are signed.

But even asking a landlord if they accept Section 8 is incorrect. The Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program is a form of government assistance, providing low-income residents with a voucher that guarantees a landlord that payment of a certain portion of the rent will be made to them directly by the local housing authority.

In this manner, Section 8 is a form of income for the tenants, not a loan, and is treated the same way as income from any employer or from self-employment. So to ask a landlord if they accept Section 8 is like asking if they rent to employees of Walmart or Shoprite.

How a landlord will decide

Landlords must accept applications from tenants with Section 8 vouchers the same as they would for any other applicants with proof of income. But that doesn’t guarantee a tenant that their application will be accepted. Landlords have the right to screen all tenants for eligibility, as long as their decision to reject an application is not based on discrimination against a protected class.*

A landlord will look for several things when screening rental applications. The tenants will be paying all, or at least a portion, of the rent and utilities—can they show proof of sufficient income to cover their bills and living expenses? The tenants are expected to pay their rent and utility bills on time—do their credit scores reflect a history of properly managing finances? The landlord wants to protect his investment property and maintain a safe environment—do the tenants have a history of evictions indicating that they may jeopardize the landlord’s business or safety?

Every landlord collects a security deposit from tenants, which is returned at the end of their final lease term minus any legal deductions. A tenant with a Section 8 voucher is still responsible to provide that security deposit, which, not including apartment complexes, is almost universally equal to one-and-a-half times one month’s rent. Whether the tenant provides that deposit directly or a charitable organization provides it on their behalf, it is not waived, and the landlord expects a security deposit check prior to tenants occupying the home.

You are no different than anyone else

So the answer to the simple question, “Do you accept Section 8?” is more detailed: The landlord will consider your Section 8 voucher as well as your other income, examine your credit report, and often run a background check to flag a previous eviction or other irregularities. If you qualify, you are as eligible to apply for a lease as anyone else.

You can find more information about the process of renting a home here, which will answer even more of your questions.

* * *

Law against discrimination

*”The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) prohibits discrimination when selling or renting property. Landlords cannot choose renters or buyers based on a person’s race, creed, color, national origin, ancestry, nationality, marital or domestic partnership or civil union status, sex, gender identity or expression, disability, affectional or sexual orientation, family status or source of lawful income or source of lawful rent payment (such as rental assistance from the Housing Choice Voucher Program formerly known as Section 8). The LAD does not prohibit discrimination on the basis of age in a housing context. However, it is unlawful to discriminate against families with children, except in certain qualified housing developments intended specifically for older persons, which may be allowed to exclude children.”

Source: State of New Jersey Department of Community Affairs

Bo Twerdowsky

Real estate agent, self-professed computer geek, grammar policeman, proud father of two. Opinionated, questioning, intolerant of stuffy sorts devoid of a sense of humor.