Housing FAQ’s for Tenants and Landlords

What is subsidized housing?  

Subsidized housing is housing that is affordable because you pay a portion of your income towards your rent. Subsidized housing can be in private low-rent housing, public housing and in the form of a rental subsidy (Section 8, MRVP, AHVP).  For more information about affordable housing, we recommend the booklet How to Obtain Housing Assistance in Massachusetts, 2004, published by the MA Department of Housing and Community Development click here, or call (617) 573-1100.

What is private low-rent housing?
The government gives funds directly to apartment owners, who lower the rents they charge low-income tenants. You can find low-rent apartments for senior citizens and people with disabilities, as well as for families and individuals.

What is public housing?
Public housing was established to provide decent and safe rental housing for eligible low-income families, elders, and people with disabilities. Public housing comes in all sizes and types, from scattered single family houses to high-rise apartments for elderly families. In Massachusetts, public housing is administered by the Local Housing Authority in each city or town where the housing is located.

What is Section 8?
The Section 8 program, now called the Housing Choice Voucher Program, is the federal government’s major program for assisting very low-income families, elders, and people with disabilities to afford decent, safe, and sanitary housing in the private market. Since housing assistance is provided on behalf of the family or individual, participants are able to find their own housing, including single-family homes, townhouses and apartments.

Participants are free to choose any housing that meets the requirements of the program and is not limited to units located in subsidized housing projects.

Housing choice vouchers are administered locally by public housing agencies (PHAs). The PHAs receive federal funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to administer the voucher program.

A family who is issued a housing voucher is responsible for finding a suitable housing unit of its choice. This unit may include the family’s present residence. Rental units must meet minimum standards of health and safety, as determined by the PHA.

A housing subsidy is paid to the landlord directly by the PHA on behalf of the participating family. The family then pays the difference between the actual rent charged by the landlord and the amount subsidized by the program. Under certain circumstances, if authorized by the PHA, a family may use its voucher to purchase a modest home.

How can I get a rental subsidy or find subsidized housing? How do I get on Section 8?
For Public Housing and Section 8, you must apply to the Local Housing Authorities (for both public housing and Section 8), and to one of the Regional NonProfit Housing Agencies (for Section 8). You are not limited to the number of local housing authorities to which you apply for public housing or Section 8. Please note that a number of Local Housing Authorities participate in a Centralized Section 8 waiting list (check outhttp://www.massnahro.org/ for information about this). You should only apply to ONE Regional Non-Profit Housing Agency (like Housing Assistance Corporation or HAC) since we all work together to administer the state-wide Section 8 program.

Do you have listings of subsidized housing?
The best resource for finding private subsidized housing (low income rental units) is through MassHousing. They have a comprehensive listing by community of low-income rental units. To find out more about the MassHousing list, go tohttp://www.masshousing.com/. The Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association (CHAPA) also has an online listing; see http://www.massaccesshousingregistry.org.

How can I apply for housing either Section 8, subsidized, or project-based?
You may apply to any one of the regional nonprofit agencies that administer the statewide Section 8 program. If you apply to one of the regional housing agencies your name will be placed on a statewide Section 8 waiting list maintained by the Department of Housing and Community Development. These waiting lists are quite long.

You may also call HAC’s Housing Consumer Education Center at (508) 771-5400 to enroll in one of its Subsidized Housing work shops or apply any of the local housing authorities to find out how to submit an application. There is now a centralized waiting list in which 43 local housing authorities participate. You need only to apply to one of these authorities to be considered by all 43 authorities. Applications can be obtained online by visiting MassNAHRO. You may also apply to each housing authority that does not participate in the centralized list. Please note that some local housing authorities either do not have a Section 8 program or their waiting lists may be closed. For a recorded listing of housing authorities currently accepting Section 8 applications, please call: (508) 778-7507 ext. 4.

What is project-based housing?
Project-based rental assistance means rental assistance comes with the apartment. You will pay 30% of your income toward rent and the federal or state government (depending on the program that subsidizes the unit), pays the difference between your payment and the actual rent charged.

Under project-based housing programs, the rental assistance is tied to specific apartments. It is not a mobile subsidy that can be taken with you from place to place. If you move, you do not have any right to continued housing assistance. However, you may be eligible for a tenant-based voucher when one becomes available, depending upon the program.

My apartment received a failed inspection (Section 8).  What does this mean? Do I have to move? If you are currently living in a unit that is being subsidized by Section 8 and that unit fails inspection, you may not have to move. If the property owner is willing and able to make the necessary repairs to the unit in a specific period of time so that it will pass inspection, you will not have to move. If your property owner is unable or unwilling to make the repairs to the unit so that it meets the requirements of a Housing Quality Standards (HQS) inspection, then you will most likely have to move, after the housing agency has given the owner notice that the unit has failed, has given the owner reasonable time and notice to make the repairs and then notifies the owner that the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) contract will be terminated due to the fact that the unit is not meeting HQS. If the HAP contract is terminated, you will be given a new voucher to locate a new unit that will pass inspection. You should work closely with your housing leasing officer and housing inspector who will make sure that you are notified during each step of this process.

If a new unit that you are looking to move to does not pass inspection and the owner is not willing to bring it into compliance with HQS, you will not be allowed to move to that unit using your Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher.

Is there affordable housing available specifically for people with disabilities?
There are several different housing assistance programs targeted for people with disabilities. Some of these programs are in the form of Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher assistance and some of them are either public housing or project based units. Please contact HAC’s Housing Consumer Education Center at (508) 771-5400 to determine what is available in this area for people with disabilities. You may also consult Mass Access, a free program which helps people with disabilities to find rental housing in Massachusetts.

Do you offer a Section 8 Homeownership Program?

To find out if a town has a housing authority that offers the Section 8 Homeownership program, go to: http://www.hud.gov/local/ma/homeownership/hsgvouchers.cfm

How can I find out about the Section 8 waiting list?
Applicants may apply to 4 different Section 8 lists:

  • Centralized Waiting list which will put you on lists at over 43 local housing authorities at the same time (Bourne, Dennis, and Yarmouth)
  • Housing Choice Voucher program at the nine regional nonprofit agencies that administer Section 8 (HAC for Cape & Islands and Barnstable HA)
  • Project Based Voucher Program where the subsidy is tied to the unit and is not mobile.
  • Other waiting lists at the local housing authorities (Falmouth)

If you have a change of address, you should contact any participating housing authority and regional nonprofit to report your address change. You should send all changes in writing.

How does a subsidy waiting list work? Why so long?
In a nutshell, the demand for Section 8 and other subsidy programs is much larger than the stock of available vouchers and project-based units, resulting in very long waiting lists. In fact, some housing authorities have chosen to close their waiting lists due to the high demand. DHCD’s regional nonprofit housing agencies administering the Section 8 program have not closed their waiting lists, but the lists are extremely long. In selecting households from its waiting lists, housing authorities may give preference to the following (1) homeless or living in substandard housing; (2) involuntarily displaced and has not found replacement housing; and, (3) paying more than 50% of its income toward rent. Households who qualify for these preferences may move ahead of others.

Why is it taking so long for me to move up on the Section 8 waiting list?
Please refer to the response above.


All questions related to HomeBase, for tenants and landlords, please call HAC at (508) 771-5400.

Housing Search:

Can you help me find an apartment?
Yes. At the Housing Consumer Education Center at HAC, there are listings of landlords in our area who have apartments to rent as well as computer, telephone, and newspaper resources to find apartment leads. We also offer Housing Search Workshops and online apartment listings .

If I find a property that interests me in your apartment listings, what is the next step?
Contact the landlord and discuss any questions you might have. If you are still interested, ask for an appointment to see the unit.

How do I prepare for an appointment with a landlord?
Applying for an apartment is similar to applying for a job. Be sure to dress nicely, arrive on time, and be polite. Expect the landlord to ask you questions about your rent history, employment history, credit history, and sources of income. Most landlords ask for references from previous employers and landlords. Be prepared to provide names and phone numbers.

Why do some landlords ask for security deposits?
A security deposit protects the landlord in case a family moves out leaving damages to the property, unpaid rent, late charges or unpaid utilities.

Where can I get help with move-in costs?
At various times throughout the year, the agencies receive funds from various sources that can be used to assist low-income families move in to permanent housing. Call our Housing Consumer Education Center at (508) 771-5400 and ask if funding is currently available.

How can I obtain money to pay for rent?
At various times throughout the year, the agencies receive funds from various sources that can be used to assist low-income families to maintain permanent housing. Call our Housing Consumer Education Center at (508) 771-5400 and ask if funding is currently available.

How can I get affordable housing?
Start by reading the booklet How to Obtain Housing Assistance in Massachusetts, 2004, published by the MA Department of Housing and Community Development – click here or call (617) 573-1100. We have a list of the MHFA (state subsidized) and HUD (federally subsidized) properties that determine rent based on the tenant’s income. We also have the state-wide Section 8 Application and a list of all the public housing authorities in the state that offer their own Section 8 and public housing programs. You will need to apply and follow up with any changes of address you have so you can remain in contact with the places to which you have applied. Be aware that some lists are closed and some have 3 to 5 year waiting lists. You may also enroll in one of Subsidized Housing Workshops to learn where and how to apply for subsidized housing.

How can I get an apartment if I have the financial means, but poor credit?
At our Housing Consumer Education Center, you may inquire about ways to mend your poor credit or obtain a referral to a credit-counseling agency to assist you, if necessary. They also will assist you to write a statement that explains your credit problem in the best possible light. They may even be willing to contact the landlord and discuss a possible agreement under which you may obtain the apartment. For more assistance, please call (508) 771-5400.

To request a free copy of your credit report, go to http://www.annualcreditreport.com. Beware that other “free credit report” offers may not actually be free. To learn more, read this article.

How can I find rental properties in other areas?

HAC is part of a statewide network of housing agencies. We can refer you to an agency in the area in which you’re interested. Please call our Housing Consumer Education Center at (508) 771-5400.

Repairs, Inspections, Code Violations:

How can I get the landlord to fix something if there are problems with my unit?
Notify your landlord as soon as the problem occurs. Be sure to note the date/time you spoke with him/her or left a message. Once you request the landlord to fix a code violation, follow-up with a letter which includes the date of request and the expected plan for the repair. Keep a copy for your file. If you receive no response, send a certified letter. If you do not receive a response to either request, contact your local Board of Health (BOH) – http://www.mahb.org/profile/Directory.asp

Can my landlord come into my unit without notice?
A landlord can only enter without a tenant’s permission in an emergency situation such as a broken pipe or gas leak. The tenant should be notified of the event, either verbally or in writing with a note of the event including date, time, issue and result.

The landlord may include a clause in a lease pertaining to access for certain purposes — in fact, the standard Section 8 lease includes a clause which states, “Upon reasonable notice, allow Owner to enter dwelling unit in order to inspect the premises, to make repairs thereto, or to show unit to a prospective tenant or purchaser. The Tenant will not be unreasonable in denying entry. The Owner may also enter upon the premises without prior consent if it appears to have been abandoned by the Tenant or in the case of an emergency.”

The State Sanitary Code requires a tenant to allow the owner access with reasonable notice to make repairs as required by the code. The landlord can go to court to obtain an order of access. If applicable, the landlord should provide a 24 hour notice if they need to enter.

Where can I find information about lead paint?
Information on lead paint can be found at http://www.masshousinginfo.org (search lead paint). Information can also be found through the MA Childhood Poisoning Prevention Program, (800) 532-9571, http://www.mass.gov/dph/clppp. The local Board of Health, the Department of Health and your child’s doctor may also have information regarding lead.

CORI: Can I be denied housing if I have a criminal record?
Yes, but you should appeal a decision if you can provide proof that you have turned your life around. You can access a CORI form from the Criminal History Systems Board. For more information, visit the Massachusetts Trial Court Law Libraries’ “Massachusetts Law About Criminal Records” page.

Please be aware that:

State and Federal housing must follow regulations in their screening of CORI.
The Housing Authority must give you an opportunity to explain your circumstances.
Private landlords do not have to offer you an opportunity to explain your circumstances.
It is illegal for a landlord to ask you to get your CORI and give him/her a copy.
Anyone may access your CORI under the following circumstances:
If you were convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment for 5 or more years.
You are presently or were recently in prison, incarcerated under a sentence.
You are presently under probation or parole.

What is a rental agreement (tenancy at will)?
A rental agreement is an agreement between the landlord and a tenant in which the landlord agrees to rent an unit and the tenant agrees to pay rent, but no date is set for the agreement to end. Make sure this agreement is in writing.

What is a lease?
A lease is a written agreement between the landlord and the tenant with a fixed time frame to begin and end wherein the tenant agrees to pay the rent.

What type of notice do I have to give in order to move?
If you have a tenancy at will you must notify your landlord in writing of your plan to move by giving 30 days notice. Notice is required at the beginning of the rental period, (i.e., for a July 1 move, your LL would be given a 30- day notice on June 1).

Homeless individuals and families

What are my options if I am homeless?
If you are homeless, your first option is to find family/friends with whom you can stay. If that is not possible and you are an adult with a child/children in your custody or you are pregnant, you can go to your local Department of Transitional Assistance (Welfare) office and apply for emergency shelter. If you are a single individual or 2 adults, you can ask our Housing Consumer Education Center, (978) 459-0551, for a list of shelters that are available to adults.

**If you are a homeless household without minor children, you are not eligible for EA shelter services through the Dept. of Transitional Assistance.**

For more information about getting into a shelter, please contact:

DTA Family Housing (EA Homeless Unit):

Homes for Families: (617) 227-4188
Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless: (781) 595-7570
Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance: (617) 367-6447
Safelink (Statewide Hotline): (877) 785-2020 (domestic violence shelter)

Where can I get emergency assistance?
Emergency Assistance is obtained through the Department of Transitional Assistance. They determine eligibility based on income and assets. If you need Emergency Assistance or food stamps, go to the nearest DTA (Welfare) Office or call to schedule an appointment.

What is Toolbox?
The Toolbox Program was created by the Department of Transitional Assistance. It is a pool of funds that is managed by Housing Assistance Programs. Generally, the funds are used for families who have been placed in shelter by DTA and are moving to affordable, permanent housing.

Property Owners

Why were my HAP payments suspended?

I know that I have some outstanding issues with inspections, but you didn’t have to stop my rent! We are mandated by HUD to not pay for units that fail to meet our basic compliance requirements during the inspection process. We give property owners an initial 30 days to make repairs and then an additional 14 days when needed. After the 14 day extension, we must suspend HAP payments until the unit is brought into compliance. Failure to bring the unit into compliance after this point will result in the unit’s termination from the Section 8 program. For assistance with bringing your unit back online, please call ebonilla@comteam.org or phone (978) 654 – 5686.

Apartment Listings:

Will CTI help me to market my property?
Community Teamwork provides free a free listing service to landlords, allowing them to market their properties through our website. To list a vacant unit with us, click here. If you need assistance, please contact Avi Glaser at (978) 459-0551 or e-mail aglaser@comteam.org.

Tenant Behavior/Evictions:

I would like to evict my tenant. Where do I start?
If you are thinking of evicting your tenant, please consider free tenant-landlord mediation services for the Greater Boston area available through Just-A-Start Corporation’s Mediation for Results. In addition, our Housing Consumer Education Center (HCEC) is free, open to the public, and offers case management and referral services to both tenants and property owners. Taking advantage of the free sessions will allow you to stay informed and make informed decisions regarding your rental property.

Should you need additional information on the eviction process information is available on the following websites:

What steps should I take if I think my tenant is selling drugs?
If you have reason to believe that your tenant is selling or manufacturing controlled substances, you have a duty under Massachusetts law to bring the information to the attention of your local police department. Please also notify the Housing Authority or agency administering your tenant’s voucher as soon as possible — tenants can lose their subsidies for this reason. If your tenant is in fact selling or manufacturing drugs, you also have an obligation to protect the “quiet enjoyment” and safety of all other tenants by taking action to evict that individual. If you can demonstrate in court that the sale or manufacture of drugs is taking place on your premises, you may be able to engage in an expedited eviction process based on Chapter 139, Section 19 of the Massachusetts General Laws. Call HAC’s Housing Consumer Education Center at (508) 771-5400 or consult an attorney for more details on how to do this.

Where can I obtain assistance and/or information if a tenant has destroyed or damaged a unit?
Tenants are responsible for the costs of repairing any damage beyond normal wear and tear that they have done to a rental unit. Include copies of receipts for any repairs that were made (and/or estimates for any repairs that have yet to be completed) with the bill that you submit to the tenant. It is generally not good policy to allow the tenant to make the repairs.

If you are evicting the tenant, be sure to ask to be reimbursed for tenant damage as part of the eviction process. If the tenant has vacated the rental unit, you may deduct the cost of the repairs from the security deposit.

You may also choose court action to recover damages from your tenant. If the amount that the tenant owes you is less than $2,000, you can bring action in small claims court. Small claims court is user-friendly, and you do not need an attorney to bring action in it. If your damages exceed $2,000, you should seek the counsel of an attorney to help you press your claim in court. For more information contact our Housing Consumer Education Center at (508) 771-5400 or call your local courthouse.

As a new landlord, where can I find information on rules and regulations?
There are many sources of information that are available to you. First and foremost is our Housing Consumer Education Center, which can often provide answers to your questions. If you prefer to attend workshops in a different vicinity, check with the housing nonprofit in your area (see http://www.masshousinginfo.org/mnpha) or your local landlords’ association (see http://www.massrha.com). Both websites contain additional information that will also be of interest to you. You will find the text of the Massachusetts General Laws having to do with rental property management at http://www.state.ma.us/legis/laws/mgl. Information about fair housing laws can be found at the Massachusetts Commission against Discrimination (www.mass.gov/mcad/) or from the HUD-funded Fair Housing Initiatives Program located in your area. Information about how to comply with the state’s lead poisoning regulations can be obtained from the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program website at http://www.mass.gov/dph/clppp. Property Management for Massachusetts Rental Owners is a manual on Massachusetts property management practices that includes sample forms, both in hard copy and on a CD. It can be purchased through your local HCEC program or at http://www.haphousing.org. And you may often find that checking with an attorney who is familiar with rental housing law is money that is well spent.

How can I get a rent increase?
If you have a tenant at will, you can increase your rent whenever you want, as long as you give proper notice to the tenant. Because you are terminating the “old” tenancy and replacing it with a new tenancy at a higher monthly rent, notice must be given directly to the tenant in writing at least 30 days or one full rental period (whichever is greater) before the day on which the rent is due. The tenant may either accept your offer and agree to the new tenancy or refuse your offer and continue to pay rent at the old rate. In the latter case, you would then have the option of evicting the tenant for possession.

If your tenant has a lease, you cannot increase the rent until after the lease has expired. The only exceptions to this are when your lease contains either a “tax escalator clause” that allows you to pass a percentage of a property tax increase on to your tenant, or a “fuel escalator clause” that allows you to pass increases in fuel costs on to tenants for whom you are paying heating bills. The tax escalator clause must also include language stating that a pro-rated portion of any tax abatement will be rebated to the tenant (less attorney’s fees).

What am I obligated to do with a security deposit?
When the tenant moves in, you are allowed to collect a security deposit in an amount not exceeding that of the first month’s rent. In order to avoid the possibility of penalties, you must take the following actions when you collect a security deposit from your tenant:

1. Give your tenant a receipt when you receive the security deposit.2. Within 10 days of when your tenant moves in (or 10 days when you receive the security deposit), you must give the tenant a “Statement of Condition of Premises,” wherein the tenant has 15 days to return a signed copy of this document to you.3. Within 30 days of receipt of the tenant’s security deposit, you must place it in a special interest-bearing escrow account in a Massachusetts bank. You must provide the tenant with a written statement that gives the number of the escrow account, the amount of the security deposit, and the name and address of the bank.4. You are required annually to pay your tenant whatever interest has accumulated on the escrow account over the preceding year. But if the tenant moves out before the end of the first year, you have the right to retain any interest earned on the security deposit.5. Finally, you must return the security deposit – less any damages (other than normal wear and tear) caused by the tenant and/or any rent still owed to you – together with any interest still owed to the tenant no later than 30 days after the tenant moves out. You must also provide the tenant with a special form that details the disposition of the security deposit and any monies owed to you. Include receipts or estimates for all work done to repair damages caused by the tenant.

What can I do if I have a vacant unit? How do I screen potential tenants?
Tenant selection must always be conducted in compliance with fair housing laws. It is illegal to discriminate against someone because he or she falls into a “protected category.” The key to complying with the fair housing laws is to treat every applicant uniformly and fairly, judging each individual on his or her merits. To learn more about state and federal fair housing laws, contact our Housing Consumer Education Center at (508) 771-5400 or the Fair Housing Initiatives Program in your area.

Where can I obtain information on how to list a vacant unit?
At minimum you should place an ad describing the rental unit in your area newspaper. Most newspapers divide rental listings according to the municipality or neighborhood in which the property is located. Be sure to stress the advantages of the unit – and to specify the total number of rooms in the unit, the number of bedrooms, the rent you are asking for, whether utilities are included, and how to contact you. You may also want to place a notice in area locations such as laundromats and convenience stores. Most local colleges and many housing authorities and nonprofits also maintain lists of available rental units. If an owner or property manager is usually available on the premises, you may also wish to post a for-rent sign in front of the property. To list your vacancies with nearlistings, please click here.

Where can I get help to de-lead an apartment?
Deleading may only be performed by someone who is authorized to do so. Under state law, there are three levels of deleading activities. A rental property owner or his employee can be authorized to undertake certain “low-risk” deleading activities by the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program (CLPPP).

Similarly, a rental owner or his or her employee may perform certain “moderate risk” deleading activities on his or her rental unit after first completing a one-day workshop offered at various locations around the state. (A list can be found athttp://www.mass.gov/dph/clppp.) “High-risk” deleading activities can only be performed by a professional deleader.

The “Get the Lead Out” program provides low-cost loans to investor-owners or to low- or moderate-income owner-occupants for the purpose of deleading rental units in one- to four-unit properties. For more details on this program, contact our Housing Consumer Education Center at (508) 771-5400 or go to view the Get The Lead Out brochure published by MassHousing. Funding may sometimes also be available for deleading properties of more than four units. Check with your local community development office or area nonprofit for details (a list of nonprofits can be found athttp://www.masshousinginfo.org/mnpha).

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