What Owners and Landlords Should Know About Section 8 Inspections
The HUD Section 8 program is the federal government’s flagship housing assistance program, with approximately 5 million U.S. households currently participating. In order to increase the supply of affordable housing for low-income Americans, the Section 8 Housing Assistance Program subsidizes rents by paying all or part of a tenant’s rent directly to a participating landlord.
Property owners appreciate the fact that renting to Section 8 tenants means regular, monthly payments from their local housing authority, and nearly eliminates the cost and hassle of marketing. However, operating a Section 8 property can come with its fair share of challenges, including unruly tenants, reams of paperwork, and hassle-filled government inspections. While a Section 8 inspection may never be something to look forward to, if a property owner or property manager is sufficiently prepared, it can be a relatively straightforward, worry-free process.
Section 8 Inspection Basics
There are several situations in which a Section 8 owner may be subject to an inspection. During the approval process, properties are inspected before a Public Housing Authority agrees to allow the landlord to participate in the program. Owners can also expect annual inspections, and may also receive inspections as the result of a specific complaint or an audit. In most cases, owners will be alerted in advance of their inspection time and date, though they may not get much advance notice if the inspection is related to significant health or safety issues. Inspections will generally either be conducted by an inspector from the local public housing authority, or an outside firm that the PHA has hired.
While we’ve attempted to give the broad strokes of what a Section 8 inspection will cover, there are local variations, often regarding specific elements of a unit (ex. garbage disposals) that may be focused on in some cities/counties and not others. In addition, inspection intervals may be shorter or longer in some areas than in others. For instance, in San Diego, many units are only inspected every two years. To be fully sure of the standard a property will be measured against, Section 8 owners should consult HUD’s Property Standards Guide as well as the local guides and forms for their local PHA.
Preparing for a Section 8 Inspection
As an owner, preparing for an upcoming Section 8 inspection is essential, however, if an owner is careful about regular maintenance and upkeep, not much may need to be done for the specific inspection. In general, owners should make sure that any broken building components inside their Section 8 units are fully repaired, but, most importantly, owners need to ensure that any major health and safety hazards are addressed.
To help Section 8 owners prepare, we’ve provided a comprehensive list below of the unit and building components will be focused on during an inspection:
Each room in each unit
Hazards and potential hazards
Electricity & electricity hazards
Potential security issues
Window, ceiling, floor, and wall conditions
Lead-based paint check
Kitchen check, determining if kitchen has stove or range with oven, refrigerator, and sink
Determining if reasonable space present for safe food storage & preparation
Bathrooms: presence of flush toilet in a closed room, fixed wash basin, and presence of tub or shower
Adequate ventilation/interior air quality
Site and foundation condition
Stair, rail, and porch condition
Exterior surface condition
Unit access, including fire exits
Pest infestation, garbage and debris check
Elevator safety and maintenance
Interior stair condition
HVAC and water heater condition
Plumbing, water supply, and sewer
A full list of areas that may be checked can be found on the HUD Section 8 Inspection Checklist. In addition to any areas on this list, inspectors may cite properties for other hazards, so regardless if something is on this list, if it is potentially dangerous, it should be taken care of as quickly as possible. Some common inspection issues include:
Paint flaking (especially if there are children in the unit)
No locks and deadbolts on exterior doors
No window locks/screens
Improper pressure release valves on hot water heaters and boilers
Lack of handrails on stairs, both interior and exterior
Broken carbon monoxide and/or smoke detectors
Tub caulking issues
Lack of smoke detectors on every level
Lack of bathroom fan/ventilation
No weathertight windows or doors
As these are some of the most issues a unit/property is likely to be flagged for, it’s a good idea for landlords to specifically check their property for these issues, both prior to an inspection and on a regular basis.
Section 8 Inspection Results
Once a Section 8 inspection is complete, an inspector may give one of three scores to every item they inspect in a unit. This includes a pass, which means that an area is fully compliant with Section 8 standards, a fail, which means that area in question must be addressed, or inconclusive, which means that not enough information is present for the inspector to make an informed decision. In general, this simply means that an inspector will need to consult with the landlord to get more details about the unit or building component in question. If only one area in the inspection is regarded as a fail, the entire unit is considered a fail.
In regard to failures, if a tenant has not already moved into a unit, a landlord will need to fix the issues prior to their move-in date. For units with tenants in-place, owners generally have a certain time period before re-inspection in order to fix the issue. However, if a unit fails the re-inspection, rental subsidy payments will temporarily stop until the issue has been addressed. For minor issues, re-inspection extensions may be permitted on an individual basis. For very serious issues, however, an inspector may mandate that repairs be completed within 24 hours.
In some situations, Section 8 inspections result in an inspector mandating that a owner reduce their rent, as they do not believe the current rental price is fair. However, in many cases, owners may be able to remedy this by making minor upgrades to their property, such as providing on-site laundry, ceiling fans, microwaves, or other amenities. These unit amenities will be reported on in the “Special Amenities” section of the inspection report, and, if they are sufficient, will generally make your intended rate acceptable to HUD.
Section 8 Inspections: Preparation is Key
As we said in the beginning of this article, Section 8 inspections aren’t generally a cause for celebration, but they shouldn’t be overly concerning, either. In general, if a landlord and/or property management firm is adequately maintaining their property and addressing tenant concerns in a timely manner, a Section 8 inspection is unlikely to uncover many issues. In contrast, if a landlord’s property is in terrible condition, an inspection could cause serious issues. In the end, with a little preparation and a smart plan, Section 8 inspections may seem like hassle, but won’t derail your ability to be a successful Section 8 owner/operator.