What is the HCV Program?
The Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) Program, previously known as Section 8, is a federal program that provides rent subsidies to assist participants with their monthly rental payments. This Program ensures that its participants have a safe, decent and sanitary place to live.
The Berks County Housing Authority (BCHA) administers funds received from HUD, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and distributes them in the form of Housing Choice Vouchers to eligible families and individuals. A voucher allows participating households (tenants) to rent housing that meets their needs from a private landlord. The tenant pays a portion of the rent directly to the landlord. The BCHA pays the landlord the difference between the tenant’s portion of the rent and the total rental amount.
Why should I accept the voucher?
More than one million families nationwide are being served by the HCV Program. One of the reasons for this program’s success is that owners like you have recognized the benefits of being a participating landlord. They include:
Advertising and marketing of available units: Landlords are welcome to list their units with us to be provided to our tenants.
Landlords select their own tenants: Landlords can and should screen prospective tenants for suitability, the same way they would any other tenant. Landlords are not required to rent to any family who does not meet their (non-discriminatory) screening requirements.
Quality housing: The BCHA conducts an initial property inspection, biennial inspections (every two years), and special inspections upon the request of the landlord or tenant. This provides peace of mind for both landlord and tenant.
Guaranteed monthly Housing Assistance Payments: The portion of rent paid by the BCHA is paid to the landlord via direct deposit in a timely manner every month.
The HCV program gives families the choice to find a rental unit and neighborhood that meets their needs. Having this flexibility enables these families to pursue employment and educational opportunities, live in a better climate, move out of unsafe neighborhoods, and reunite with their friends and extended families.
New landlords and property owners will find the HCV program especially rewarding, as it introduces owners to key property management principles of tenant selection and lease enforcement, and helps landlords and owners develop strong building maintenance skills.
Owner participation is essential in making these opportunities a reality. Your participation makes a direct impact in enriching these families’ lives.
How do I get started on the HCV program?
If you are interested in the HCV program and have one or more rental units, you may call the BCHA at any time. We can send you a packet of information about the HCV program and can conduct an orientation by phone.
A prospective tenant family may come to you with a voucher in hand, or you can list your available unit with the BCHA.
When a family is determined eligible for the HCV program, the BCHA issues the family a Housing Choice Voucher at a briefing appointment, where they learn the rules and regulations of the program. They are then able to begin searching for a unit.
If you would like to list your available units, the BCHA will give your name and general information about the unit(s) to families who have been issued a voucher and post listings in our office and on our website. The BCHA cannot steer families to specific owners or rental units, but we will furnish families with any information that we are provided about available units. Any interested families can then contact you for an appointment to see the unit. When your unit is rented, simply contact us and we will remove the listing.
How can I tell if my unit is eligible for the Housing Choice Voucher Program?
Any type of housing may be rented – houses, apartments, duplexes, and row houses are all acceptable – as long as the unit is located within the BCHA’s jurisdiction of Berks County, Pennsylvania, outside the city of Reading. The unit must meet Housing Quality Standards set by HUD, and the rent must be both reasonable and affordable for the size, type, and location of the unit.
How much can I charge for a security deposit?
Tenants are responsible for their own security deposit in accordance with state and local laws. Landlords are allowed to charge a security deposit equivalent to what they charge on the private market; however, security deposit amounts for a HCV family must be consistent with amounts for unassisted tenants.
How much can I rent the unit for?
The BCHA has established payment standards by bedroom size as guidelines for determining the maximum subsidy we can pay for a family. This payment standard is a general gauge of the current rental market. However, each unit is evaluated by a Housing Inspector on a case-by-case basis. Each unit’s rent must be reasonable and comparable to unassisted private-market rentals of a similar size, location, amenities, quality, unit type, maintenance, utilities and services. In no case can the rent be more than comparable available unassisted units.
What are my responsibilities as an owner in the HCV program?
Property owners have the same rights and responsibilities in the HCV program as they do with an unassisted tenant on the open market, including:
- performing all management and rental functions, including tenant screening;
- ensuring that the property meets basic health and safety standards, including paying for any owner-supplied utilities; and
- collecting a security deposit, tenant monthly rent portion, and charges for any damages caused by the tenant.
What are the tenant’s responsibilities under the HCV program?
Voucher holders have the same responsibilities as any other unassisted tenant. They are obligated to fulfill the terms and conditions in their lease, including:
- paying the security deposit
- paying the rent on time
- maintaining the property, including paying the utilities that are in their name
- allowing the owner and the BCHA reasonable access for inspections
- paying for any tenant-caused damage to the property
- using the unit solely as a residence for approved household members
- giving proper written notice when choosing to vacate
If I choose to rent to a voucher holder, what is the process involved?
The following is a brief summary of the steps you will follow:
- We must have a completed Request for Tenancy Approval form signed by the landlord and voucher holder.
- The owner and the BCHA must agree on a rent for the unit, which must be both reasonable (in comparison with similar unassisted properties in the area) and affordable to the tenant.
- The unit must pass inspection in accordance with HUD’s Housing Quality Standards. We encourage the owner and voucher holder to be present during the inspection.
- The owner must submit a copy of the lease, signed by the owner and voucher holder. No other “side agreements” are allowed.
- The owner must provide proof of ownership and tax identification.
- The owner must sign a Housing Assistance Payments (HAP) contract.
- The owner must give the voucher holder possession of the unit (issue keys) and allow occupancy.
- Shortly thereafter, you will receive your first payment as a direct deposit from the BCHA.
Does the BCHA screen tenants?
The BCHA verifies income, assets, and criminal background for the purpose of eligibility for the program. Screening for tenant suitability remains the landlord’s responsibility. Please be aware that owners are responsible for screening and selecting tenants the same way that they would in the unassisted rental market. The BCHA only determines that the tenant is income-eligible for the program. We do not screen program participants to look for “good tenants”.
Due to confidentiality restrictions, the BCHA can tell you very little about prospective tenants. However, federal regulations require that we release the tenant’s current address and the name and address of the tenant’s current and prior landlord to assist in the tenant screening process, if requested by prospective landlords.
If I sign the Request for Tenancy Approval (RFT) form, am I committed to renting the unit to the family?
No. The Request for Tenancy Approval form is simply your intention to rent to the tenant and sets the terms for the tenancy. Either party may withdraw from the process before a lease or contract is executed. Your lease is the binding agreement with your tenant.
What do inspectors look for when inspecting my rental property?
HUD requires that all necessary repairs be completed before the BCHA can enter into a HAP contract. While your unit is under contract, the BCHA will inspect the unit at least biennially (every two years).
The most common items that will cause the unit to fail the inspection include:
- Outlet cover damaged/missing/loose or outlets not properly grounded. This is by far the most common deficiency and accounts for more than half of all deficiencies found.
- Outlet exposed wiring
- Toilet hardware loose or damaged
- Window function – windows stuck or not opening properly
- Interior railings missing – a handrail is required for more than 3 steps
- Window balance
- GFI required within 6 feet of a sink
- Smoke detectors/carbon monoxide detectors missing or not functional. A working smoke detector is required for each level of a dwelling.
- GFI damaged or not functional
- Peeling/chipping paint
Other items that will cause the inspection to fail include, but are not limited to:
- Gas, electric, and water service is not turned on. All appliances, including the heater, will be tested and inspected.
- Stove & refrigerator not in the unit or not in working condition at the time of inspection. (If the tenant is required to furnish appliances, these will be re-inspected once they are installed in the unit.)
- Blocked exits (fire & safety hazard).
- Deadbolts installed on doors instead of thumb bolts (fire hazard).
- Windows without permanently attached locks or barred windows without a safety release.
- Ripped or damaged screens, broken, badly cracked, or damaged windows (safety hazard).
- Any appliance in the unit that is not clean and/or does not work properly (stove, refrigerator, air conditioner, etc.)
- Light fixtures without bulbs or covers.
- Lack of hot or cold water/very low water pressure.
- Clogged toilets.
- Ripped, torn, frayed or unsanitary carpet, or carpet with seams pulling out or other tripping hazards.
- Rotting floors, walls, cabinets, etc.
- Faucets, showerheads, etc. that do not work properly.
- Lack of proper ventilation in bathrooms (either a fan or opening window).
- Holes, large cracks, bulges, or loose surface materials on walls or ceilings.
- Floors and units that are unclean or unsanitary.
- Extremely dirty or greasy walls, cabinets, appliances, etc.
- Leaks in pipes, ceilings, or any other water leak.
- Water heaters missing discharge lines (must be copper or galvanized steel & located no more than six (6) inches from the ground) or not anchored by safety straps, or water heater missing a temperature pressure release valve.
- Any evidence of leakage or corrosion.
- Evidence of infestation by rodents, insects, etc.
- Excessive clutter or debris inside or outside the unit.
- Loose, bouncy, or broken flooring, stairs or steps inside or outside the unit.
- Lifting flooring (boards, tiles, linoleum, etc.)
- Cracked or broken counter or wall tiles that are sharp or otherwise hazardous.
- Cracked or broken glass or mirrors.
- Loose or broken railing inside or outside the unit.
- Broken doors, door jambs, cabinets, window sills, etc.Please note: Any of these items found in a common area will also cause the unit to fail the inspection.
This inspection is for the purpose of complying with HUD requirements that the unit be decent, safe, and sanitary. The BCHA is not looking for cosmetic beauty, nor do we provide building code enforcement.
Additional information on Housing Quality Standards can be located at: https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/public_indian_housing/programs/hcv/hqs
Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program regulations at 24 CFR Part 982 set forth basic housing quality standards (HQS) which all units must meet before assistance can be paid on behalf of a family and at least bi-annually throughout the term of the assisted tenancy. These can be located at: https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?SID=5a9358ef3a23c7b71fdf4d4c4aeea4a3&mc=true&node=pt24.4.982&rgn=div5#se24.4.982_1401
Ultimately, it is the landlord’s responsibility to ensure the tenant’s compliance with HQS and with the terms of their lease. This is best accomplished by the landlord regularly and proactively monitoring the condition of the unit to minimize unforeseen issues at the HQS inspection.
Who takes care of tenant-caused damages during the tenancy?
Just as with any other tenant, repairs for tenant-caused damages are the responsibility of the tenant. Failure to make repairs may be grounds to terminate the lease and end the tenant’s participation in the HCV program. The security deposit may also be used for reimbursement costs.
How do I terminate the tenancy of a Housing Choice Voucher tenant?
Just as with any other tenant, if a tenant falls behind in the rent or violates any of their lease obligations, you should use the remedies defined in your lease agreement.
I am interested in the voucher program but still have questions.
Please download our Owner Handbook, available below. We have put this handbook together specifically to give an overview of the HCV program and answer most common questions.
If you have any further questions that have not been answered by this FAQ and handbook, please contact the BCHA at (610) 370-0822. Explain that you are interested in renting your property through the voucher program. A representative of the HCV program will be happy to answer your questions.