When you apply for the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program or project-based rental assistance, your application has to meet the qualifying criteria for income, rental history, and criminal background. If you’re wondering what criminal charges disqualify you from Section 8, you’re in the right place.
This guide, will give you an overview of the criminal background check procedure for Section 8. We’ll also cover what happens if you’re charged with an offense when you’re already receiving Section 8 assistance.
What Criminal Charges Disqualify You From Section 8 As A New Applicant?
Arrests and criminal charges that didn’t result in a conviction, plea bargains, and charges in a pending case won’t automatically result in your Section 8 application being denied.
The same is true for charges that resulted in a conviction for a felony or misdemeanor.
Under the anti-discrimination provisions in the Fair Housing Act, criminal backgrounds must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
The Public Housing Authority (PHA) responsible for administering the Section 8 program in your area will take the nature and severity of the offense into account. They’ll also look at how long ago you committed the offense and your conduct since that time.
If the PHA decides that your offense and any continuing pattern of criminal activity could endanger the safety of other tenants or housing authority employees, your application will be denied.
Each housing authority sets its own acceptance criteria, and you may be disqualified for criminal activity involving drug use or violence, but there are 2 types of offense that will always result in disqualification.
- Conviction of an offense that requires a lifetime registration as a sex offender.
- A conviction for manufacturing methamphetamine in federally assisted housing.
The federal government supplies the funding for Section 8 project-based housing and the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program. HUD – The Department of Housing and Urban Development – issues guidance to PHAs about using criminal background checks in a non-discriminatory way during the Section 8 application process.
The guidance states that when an application is denied due to criminal history, the denial must be based on reasonable evidence that you would pose a risk to others, and on a housing policy that distinguishes between criminal behavior that could pose a risk to others and criminal behavior that does not.
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Supporting Your Section 8 Application With Mitigating Evidence
When you apply for Section 8, you’ll also have the opportunity to provide mitigating evidence to support your application.
Mitigating evidence shows that you’ve changed for the better and will be a responsible tenant and good neighbor. Supporting evidence that will help your application includes:
- Your employment record.
- Education and training you’ve completed or are undergoing.
- Character references from employers.
- References from your current or previous landlords and neighbors.
- References from probation officers, faith and community leaders, tutors, addiction counselors, and social workers.
Because of the demand for Section 8 programs, most PHAs operate waiting lists. Your background check is carried out when you reach the top of the waiting list.
Before the PHA can run your background check, they need your consent and will send you a release form to sign. Enclose your mitigating documents when you return your signed release form.
Section 8 waiting lists can be very long. Waits of 3 to 10 years are common. Put your application in as soon as you can. You may be moved to the top of the waiting list if you’re currently homeless or living in a shelter.
Section 8 Background Checks Apply To Every Adult Occupant
Every person over the age of 18 (16 in some PHAs) who will live in your household needs to pass a criminal background check. Parents of children that live in your household will also be screened even though they don’t currently live with you.
If other members of your household have a criminal background, supply as much mitigating evidence for them as possible.
What Criminal Charges Disqualify You From Section 8 As An Existing Tenant?
When you’re awarded a Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher or given a tenancy in public housing, you must agree to certain conditions. If you or anyone else in your household violates those conditions, you can lose your Section 8 award or be evicted from public housing.
The exact criteria will be specified by your PHA, but common disqualifying conditions include:
- Causing a disturbance
- Threatening behavior
- Being arrested
- Being charged with a crime
- Violating probation or parole
- Drug-related activity
- Problems caused by alcohol abuse
Your housing authority does not need to wait for a conviction before taking action against you. Proof of guilt is not required, minor evidence is all that’s needed to conclude that criminal activity has taken place.
Before your PHA takes action against you, you’re entitled to a hearing where you’ll have the opportunity to present mitigating circumstances and make a case for why you shouldn’t lose your Section 8 housing support.
Possible mitigating circumstances include:
- The person involved in criminal activity no longer lives with you.
- The person arrested for drug-related activity is undergoing treatment.
- Your prior good record as a responsible tenant.
- The charges were minor.
- The charges were dismissed.
Losing your right to Section 8 housing is a very serious matter with immediate and longer-term consequences. If you’re evicted from public housing, that eviction can be grounds for denying future applications until the disqualification period has passed.
If you’re at risk of eviction, it’s wise to get qualified legal help to assist you with your hearing and boost your chances of a successful outcome. Your legal adviser will also coach you so you don’t reveal information that could be used against you in your criminal case.
Each housing authority has its own criminal background screening policy. When you apply for Section 8, the PHA will look at the nature of your charges, the outcome, and how long it’s been since the offense took place. Your application can be disqualified if the housing authority determines you are likely to pose a threat to others.
If you’re already receiving Section 8 assistance, your Section 8 agreement will include details about the type of behavior that will result in eviction or the withdrawal of your housing voucher. Disqualifying behavior can include being arrested or charged with a crime, even though a conviction has not been obtained.
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