This week I want to talk about some others we’ve had experience with. Keep in mind this is just one small-time landlord’s opinion based on personal experience. I understand there is a need for government assistance in paying rent. Wages are low in Northeast PA, even if one is lucky enough to find a job at all. I’m a working Mom myself so I know how much child care costs and how big a bite it takes out of your paycheck – in some cases it may not be worth it to work at all! The only way a low income single mother could make it at all is with government rent assistance. I get it, there’s a need.
But thank God it isn’t mandatory for private landlords to accept government assisted tenants, because these programs have zero regard for the landlord! They must be under the impression we’re all rich, sitting on pots of money and thus can absorb the costs of tenants gone wrong.
Let me break it down for you:
The Pros & Cons of Accepting Tenants on Government Rent Assistance Programs
Pros: 1- The rent is guaranteed on the first of the month, oftentimes direct deposited right to your bank.
2- At least with Section 8, you can raise the rent by a reasonable percentage every year. We always do 5%. And they’ve always paid it.
Cons: 1- It might not be the whole rent. A lot of these programs base the rent assistance on the tenant’s income, and they review it quarterly. So a tenant may move in with the program picking up 100% of the rent. And two months in you’ll get a letter stating the agency is going to reduce the rent payment, leaving the tenant responsible for a portion of the rent. In my experience, it’s been difficult to collect the tenant’s portion. These people aren’t always the best at managing money! And that leaves you, the landlord, with a difficult decision to make. Do you evict based on the $100 the tenant didn’t pay? If you do, you’ll lose the $500 the program pays, because they’ll just stop paying, and it doesn’t matter what your lease says. And it’s YOUR problem to get the tenant out of your unit. The likelihood of them staying until the end of the 30 day eviction process and leaving a trashed-out unit behind is very high. And since they are indigent, you can’t even go after them with collections! So you may decide to let that $100 slide. But for how many months will you do that?
2- The tenant could break the lease and move out in the middle of the night, with no consequence. Maybe they’ll get kicked off the program, but I have my suspicions they won’t. You, however, are left with an empty apartment. Maybe even one that’s full of junk furniture, garbage, and food rotting in the fridge. Even if you have 10 months left on the lease, the agency is simply going to stop paying their portion of the rent, and there’s nothing you can do about it. All you can do is keep the security deposit and hope it’s enough the cover the costs of removing the debris from the apartment, fixing any damage and re-renting it. Often, it’s not, not even by a longshot.
3- The government agencies that pay rent take no responsibility for the behavior of the tenants. That is 100% on you. So if you don’t like the fact that they, for instance, give keys to your investment property out to strange people they meet on Public Square and those people start living in your unit, that’s your problem. And you have to go through the court process to solve it, because these tenants have all the rights any other tenant would have in Pennsylvania.
That con list seems considerably longer, doesn’t it?
An important note: I am not saying don’t rent to government assisted tenants. I’m just saying go in with your eyes open.
Government Assistance Programs that are Not Section 8
We’ve had experience with three of them available in Luzerne County.
Commission on Economic Opportunity, or CEO. A pretty well-run agency. They run the Weinberg food bank as well, which is a much-needed resource in our community. They have a rental assistance program, but usually it’s a one-shot deal. They’ll help someone out by paying their security deposit. Or if someone’s behind on the rent they’ll cut them a check to catch up. Only once have I had a tenant whose monthly rent was covered by CEO.
I like CEO, and I donate to them. But two words of caution:
- Just because a tenant has applied doesn’t mean CEO is going to pay. They’ll take anyone’s application. Just make sure you have confirmation from the case worker that a check is coming.
- One of their missions is to “negotiate with landlords.” But I’ll never make the mistake of letting someone move in without a security deposit again. I “worked with the tenant” and let her just give me an extra $50 per month. Which she did. For two months. Then she stopped paying rent altogether and moved out, leaving me an empty apartment in the dead of winter. Not CEO’s fault, but no security deposit = no move in from now on!
HDC – Housing Development Corporation. Their mission is to help formerly homeless families get back on their feet. Very noble. Like Section 8, they do the quarterly income review and can reduce or increase rent payments, leaving the tenant responsible for a bigger or smaller portion.
The biggest problem I have with HDC is there seems to be no consequence for bad tenant behavior. We have one of their clients now who snuck in two dogs! According to our lease, which she signed, she is liable for the dog fee going back to the start of the lease. When we told her this, she threatened to move and was in the process of looking for a new place. HDC will simply pay her rent to whatever landlord she is renting from. So when she leaves us, that will be it. Broken lease, no recourse. I hope she finds a place soon, because now that we have HDC’s September rent payment we’re going to start the eviction process.
Advocacy Alliance. This agency is actually run by Luzerne County government. They help people with mental disabilities find housing. The money actually belongs to the tenant, the agency merely handles the rent payment. The only thing they guaranty is a 100% rent payment on the first of the month. They take no responsibility for the behavior of the tenant, and that is a problem. I have had experience with two of their clients, and neither one of them was ready to live on their own in an apartment! I blogged about the first one a few weeks ago, this was the guy who met a “friend” on Public Square, gave him the key to his apartment and ended up with 5 new roommates! http://thisgingerjustsnapped.weebly.com/blog/never-a-dull-moment
Well, after we got the roommates out, changed the locks and read him the riot act, this tenant decided he was “no longer interested” in staying in the apartment. That’s what his caseworker told me, anyway. Tough noogies, I said, he has a lease. Well, the caseworker had a solution. Tenant A would move out, and Tenant B would move right in. There would be no interruption in payments. OK, if Tenant B passes our background check, sure.
It was two roommates, one was the Advocacy Alliance client, the other a friend not on the program. They both passed, so they moved in. Three days later the phone calls started. The Advocacy Alliance client said his roommate had threatened him with a knife, and we needed to do something about it. I told him to call the police. There really is nothing a landlord could do in that situation. The calls and texts kept coming – this was on a beautiful Saturday afternoon and my husband and I were attempting to enjoy some family time at Harvey’s Lake. This tenant did not take kindly to being ignored and started threatening my husband on the text messages. He was going to get us “shut down.” I thought, go for it. I forbade my husband to leave the beach. If there really was a problem, eventually he’d have to just call the police.
There was no problem. The guy was delusional. On Monday he continued threatening my husband, so we called Valerie. She gave us the number of the helpline – if we called it, we could get him 302’d. Somehow it was up to us to do this. Well, Steve called the number, and big surprise, a landlord can’t get somebody 302’d. Steve explained to Valerie that this tenant would need to be out of the apartment by close of business the next day, and we would be keeping the money. He left, the roommate stayed. But the roommate can’t afford the apartment on his own, so Steve made a deal with him to leave at the end of September, once the pre-paid rent has been used up. Let’s hope he does.
No more Advocacy Alliance. I am not in the Mental Health field, and am thus not qualified to handle someone who goes off the rails like that. Until they offer that service to landlords, thanks but no thanks to that agency!
I like working people. Tenants who are employed don’t have a lot of time to hang out on Public Square with strange people and give them keys to their apartment. They have a stronger grip on reality and the concept of give and take, as in, you don’t get something for nothing. I know I sound like Rush Limbaugh when I say this, and as a former Liberal I never thought I would utter these words – but people who don’t work, who sit at home with government assistance paying the bills, don’t understand the concept of giving to get. Everything is handed to them. They owe nothing. Not even respect for your investment property.
That said, there are plenty of working people who simply don’t earn that much money, and thus rely on government assistance. I don’t have a problem with that. It’s a hand-up, rather than a hand-out. And that’s why my husband and I won’t go completely cold turkey on accepting government-assisted rent payments. We’ll take each on a case-by-case basis. So when we get asked that question, Do you accept Section 8 ( or another program) here is our criteria:
Do you work? Where? Can we talk to your supervisor for a reference?
List your places of residence for the past five years. I need phone numbers of landlords/managers to call for references. Don’t remember their name or phone number? NEXT! Oh, yeah, we can look up the tax records of any property in the country and find out the name of the owner. Even if it’s an LLC, we can ask the manager a few questions about the company. It’s a good way to find out if they’re really your old landlord or some friend covering for you.
We’ll be doing a full criminal background check and also searching public records for liens and evictions. If a past landlord had to file on you, we’ll see it.
These are the same conditions we apply to a tenant paying the rent themselves without government assistance. It’s important to treat all tenants the same due to fair housing laws. But don’t go any easier on someone just because you think a program is going to pick up the entire tab. It isn’t.
In the end, it’s your choice whether or not to let someone in.