You have received your HPD Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher -- what now?
Finding a new home and moving into a new neighborhood in New York City is challenging for most families. However, in a competitive housing market, your voucher is incredibly valuable and can be a great resource to help your household navigate the housing search and move into a new community. Based on the experience of other HPD Section 8 voucher holders, the following resources and best practices can help guide you to choosing a neighborhood and an apartment that best fit your lifestyle, where resources and amenities can help support your opportunities to thrive.
Here are five things you should know after receiving your HPD Section 8 voucher:
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1. Know your HPD Section 8 voucher/program
When you received your HPD Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher, you received an in-depth Voucher Briefing that informed you of your rights and responsibilities as a voucher recipient. We encourage you to keep the material provided at the briefing available for reference and revisit it as you need. You can also find it online at nyc.gov/hpd/dtr.
Knowing how your voucher works and understanding the process can help property owners view you as a knowledgeable resource, an asset to have as a tenant, and will help you more easily navigate the process from housing search to leasing up and moving in. Below are some key points to remember.
In most cases, HPD will provide subsidy up to the payment standard. The payment standard is the maximum amount HPD will pay for a unit, and the value varies by bedroom size. In most cases that do not involve mixed immigration status, your voucher allows you to pay approximately 30% of your monthly income towards your rent and HPD will pay the difference up to the payment standard.
In some zip codes, HPD uses Exception Payment Standards (EPS). EPS allows for subsidy levels that more closely match the local market. EPS is intended to expand housing opportunities in zip codes that have lower rates of poverty, lower rates of crime and/or have well-resourced schools. Please note that EPS applies only to HPD Section 8 voucher holders who are searching within New York City. To learn more visit the EPS webpage where you can see these areas highlighted on the map and find the corresponding payment standard based on the bedroom size and location of each unit.
When calculating how much subsidy HPD will provide, it is also important to know which utilities will be your responsibility. Each unit and building are different in what they require the tenant to pay. For example, in one unit you might be responsible for electric and gas, but in another unit, you might be responsible for gas, heat, and hot water. On the HPD payment standard website, you will find a table that breaks down how much utility allowances will be subtracted from your payment standard.
This means that if you have a 2-bedroom voucher, for which the normal payment standard is $2,107, and you find a 2-bedroom unit where you are responsible for gas and electric, according to the table the utility allowance is $121. If you subtract $121 from $2,107 the total is $1.986 ($2,107 - $121 = $1,986). Therefore, when you look for an apartment in a non-EPS area, you should look for a 2-bedroom that costs approximately $1,986.
When you receive your voucher, you will also receive a Landlord Package. After you begin your housing search and a property owner accepts you for a unit, they will need to complete and submit the Landlord Package to HPD. You can submit the package on their behalf, but they can also submit it by mail or by using the DTR Document Upload Portal, which can be found at www.nyc.gov/hpd/dtr-forms. There are multiple steps that must be completed before move-in is approved, it’s important for you to know them:
For more information about the leasing process, visit the Section 8/Rental Subsidy Programs webpage.
2. Know your financial needs
Before you begin searching for a home, it is very important to have a clear idea of your financial picture, and to know how much you might have to spend on various costs associated with finding an apartment. Going into your search with an idea of normal costs and fees will help you budget while also helping you steer clear of scams and illegal fees.
Property owners can require up to one month of rent as a security deposit, paid up front when you move in. For example, if your total rent is $2,000, your property owner may request a $2,000 security deposit even if your tenant share of rent will be less than $2,000. Under current law, property owners may hold onto this money while you live in the unit, and when you move out, they may use a portion or all of the deposit to pay for non-payment of rent, damage caused by the tenant beyond normal wear and tear, non-payment of utility charges payable directly to the property owner under the terms of the lease or tenancy, and moving and storage of the tenant’s belongings. Otherwise, they must return the deposit in full to you when the lease ends, within 14 days of the end of tenancy. To read more about security deposits, visit the Mayor’s Office to Protect Tenants website.
Takeaway: Be prepared to pay another month worth of rent as a security deposit. See Section 5 for financial resources.
Once you’ve signed your lease, you should start applying for your water, electricity and/or gas service. Depending on the service, you can apply online or in-person.
If you’re a new customer to a utility company and you’re not transferring an account, the utility company may require you to put down a utility deposit or a letter of guarantee as a safeguard in the case of non-payment. Please, inquire at the time of your application, so that you can factor this cost into your total move-in expenses. Remember you will need to know which utilities you are responsible for so that you may calculate the utility allowance. (Link to Section 1)
Credit History and Credit Score
Property owners will often use your credit history and/or credit score to help them decide whether to accept an application. Your credit history is a report that documents the status of your credit accounts, including bill payments, loans, credit cards, and outstanding debt. If you’ve had credit in the past, you may have a credit profile. You can get a free copy of your credit history every year by visiting www.AnnualCreditReport.com.
Your credit score is a number between 300 and 850, which comes from a specific calculation related to your debt amounts, the length of your credit history, types of credit, and amounts of new credit. To view your credit score you either need access through your banking institution or need to pay a company to view the score.
If you want to see what housing history comes along with your credit profile, you can request a residential and tenant screening report from several credit bureaus. This residential consumer request gives you an idea of what owners will see as they screen you for the unit. You are encouraged to research and find a service that works best for you.
Brokers work to connect people looking for apartments with available units on the market. They are an excellent resource for identifying units in communities, including units that may not be listed online. However, many of them require a fee for their services. Broker’s fees are usually around 12-15% of the annualized rent of the unit. [For a 12% broker’s fee: if the rent is $2,000, multiply times 12 = $24,000. 12% of $24,000 = a broker’s fee of $2,880.] Please note that it is possible for these fees to be higher.
The Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act of 2019 includes sweeping changes that can impact how broker’s fees are assessed in the rental market. There is currently pending litigation that could make changes to how and when broker’s fees may be applied. Please be mindful of how this could impact your housing search process. We will continue to provide updates as litigation progresses. For more guidance on the Tenant Protection Act as it relates to real estate professionals, please visit NY Department of State’s Division of Licensing Service website.
Application and Credit Check Fees
Application fees for an apartment are now limited to fees for background checks and credit checks and cannot exceed $20 per unit. This fee can be nonrefundable for each unit you apply for.
Pet Security Deposit
If you have pets that you want to move with you, make sure to inquire with the property owner if pets are allowed. However, housing providers are required to reasonably accommodate persons with disabilities who rely on service animals or emotional support animals by providing exceptions to “no pet” or “no dog” policies. Property owners are also not allowed to require a separate security deposit specific to pets – they are limited to the one month of rent total for the entire security deposit, and they may not require a separate side deal or lease.
See NYC Commission on Human Rights for more information on service animals.
What Fees You Shouldn't Pay
Search fees - do not pay for websites or brokers that charge you money before you’re able to see available units. Brokers are paid for their services only after you are fully leased up in a unit. Reputable websites do not charge fees to view units.
Apartment hold fees - do not pay brokers, property owners, or property management companies to hold a unit for you while they submit your application.
3. Know how to conduct a successful housing search
What Income Discrimination Looks Like
Both New York State and New York City consider discrimination based on “source of income” (SOI) illegal*. Here is a brochure that outlines your protections as a tenant within New York City.
Source of income discrimination can happen when a broker or property owner discourages or refuses to rent you an apartment because you receive government assistance to pay rent. SOI discrimination can also happen when a property owner or broker requires someone with a rental subsidy to pay additional fees that they would not charge a person who does receive a rental subsidy. The source of income discrimination law protects you during your apartment search. To learn more about SOI in the City of New York, check out the Source of Income FAQ for tenants.
A property owner cannot refuse to rent you an apartment and a broker cannot refuse to work with you because you are paying your rent with government assistance. Brokers and property owners cannot use your government assistance as a reason for denial or unequal treatment during your housing search. Some may say explicitly that they don’t take Section 8; this is illegal and can be reported to the NYC Commission on Human Rights. (See Section 5 for more information).
Watch out for brokers and property owners who:
How to Search for an Apartment with a Rental Assistance Voucher
The internet is the most common place to search for a unit, and it often provides the most up-to-date information on apartment availability. The New York City housing market moves very fast and desirable apartments will likely have several interested people all applying at the same time. The following guidance will help you know what to look for, and what to avoid.
How to Search Through an Ad
Many apartment listings offer a description of the apartment, features, and details about property owner rental requirements and selection criteria. You can apply to any unit within your zip-code’s payment standard for your unit size.
Do not be distracted by the rental requirements listed in ads, especially if your voucher will cover the rent in full each month. You should calculate how much utility allowance your unit requires (Link to Section 1) and then check to see if the rent is higher than the payment standard or EPS for the zip code with utility allowance.
Example: You have a one-bedroom voucher. You are looking for a unit in zip code 11378, which means your Exception Payment Standard is $1,944. You are responsible for gas heat and hot water, for which the utility allowance is $72. $1,944 - $72 = $1,872, so you should be looking for one-bedroom apartments in that zip code that are around $1,872.
Consider the following advertisement language:
Getting Off to a Good Start with a Broker and Property Owner
Below are a few tips for starting a good working relationship with an owner and broker:
How to Search for an Apartment Online
There are multiple apartment search sites. HPD does not endorse any one, but examples of some of the most commonly used sites include www.gosection8.com, www.streeteasy.com and www.apartments.com. Choose a website that shares apartment listings. Most apartment search sites will allow you to enter information to filter your search including rent price, number of bedrooms, neighborhood, etc.
Some sites will list “fee” or “no fee” on the units. “Fee” means that the apartment is connected with a broker that will collect a broker’s fee from you if you lease up in that unit. “No fee” means that there is no broker’s fee associated with that unit.
Know the Maximum Rent You Can Afford
Remember – side deals are prohibited, which means that brokers and property owners cannot ask or require you to pay extra money upfront or monthly.
Number of Bedrooms
You voucher size is based on the number of household members in your family- two per sleeping room. You may rent an apartment with more or fewer rooms than your voucher size, but it still must be affordable based on the payment standard for your issued voucher.
Most websites allow you to select from many different features for your desired apartment such as laundry, etc. The more features you select, the fewer apartments you’ll be able to see. Often features in the unit are also not listed for the search. Compromising and deciding between “must-haves,” like an elevator for someone with mobility limitations, and “nice-to-haves,” like a dishwasher, are part of the unique NYC housing search experience. Be aware, some buildings may offer extra amenities for a monthly, yearly, or per-use fee, like parking, laundry, rooftop access, etc., if you choose to take advantage. Make sure to inquire when you request more information about the unit.
Using your voucher outside of New York City
During your housing search you may decide to instead look for housing in an area outside of the five boroughs of New York City, for example in Westchester. If you decide to do this, you must request to “port out” of the New York City into the Public Housing Authority (PHA) in the area you want to search for, with at least 30 days left on your voucher. If you decide to move to another PHA after you have leased up, you must live in your current unit for at least one year before requesting to move. If you are interested in porting into or out of New York City, please email Portability@hpd.nyc.gov.
Key Takeaways and General Housing Search Advice
4. Know your responsibilities under the voucher, the lease, and move-in responsibilities
Your voucher lays out many of your important rights and responsibilities under the Section 8 program. Please keep it as a reference for the future. The HAP agreement lays out many of all the rights and responsibilities of the Owner under the Section 8 Program. Your lease lays out all your responsibilities in the tenancy with the property owner. Make sure you keep a copy of your briefing book, your voucher and your lease for reference for your tenancy.
Quick Housing Assistance Payment Agreement Overview
This Tenant Fact Sheet can help you keep track of your rent and utilities, information related to your landlord including how they would prefer to be paid, and other information helpful to your new unit and your new neighborhood. You can either fill it out on your phone or computer, or print it out, to keep track of this important information.
Your Lease Responsibilities
Your rent breakdown letter lets you know your share of rent and how much your property owner will receive from HPD. As you move in, it’s helpful to have a conversation with the property owner or manager about how they prefer to be paid your portion of the rent. Property owners can be paid by cash, check, money order, online payment, etc. It is a good practice to get some form of receipt every time you make a rent payment to your property owner. You should also find out if you need to set up an account to pay the utility company each month, depending on whether your lease includes gas, electricity, etc.
Unit Maintenance and Repairs
It is your responsibility to comply with your lease terms and to maintain the standards of your unit. Regular cleaning and upkeep can help avoid money taken out of your deposit when you move out.
Familiarize yourself with repairs that are a tenant’s responsibility versus repairs that are a property owner’s responsibility, versus repairs a property owner must make but may charge a tenant for. It is crucial that you promptly notify and document to your property owner or property management company when an issue arises. To learn more about tenant and property owner HQS responsibilities, visit the Section 8 – Inspections webpage.
Know your building/unit’s rules around recycling and garbage. Is there a dumpster? How does your building separate recycling, including food waste, oil, pet waste, glass, paper, plastic, cardboard, etc.? Are there rules about leaving garbage outside of the designated area? Do you need to take your garbage to the curb on certain days of the week?
Property owners are not responsible for any damages to your personal property in the case of a break-in or burglary, a fire, smoke damage, or sudden/accidental water damage in your home. Renter’s insurance is a low cost way to insure that if any of those situations were to happen, your personal property would be covered. Ask your local insurance provider about cost estimates and coverage for renter’s insurance. Websites like https://www.insurance.com/average-renters-insurance-rates can give you more information and estimates.
When your owner entered into a Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) contract with HPD, they agreed to abide by a set of responsibilities to you as a tenant and to HPD. Some of those responsibilities include: enforcing the terms of their lease, screening their applicants in a non-discriminatory manner, giving 24 hours’ notice to tenant before entering unit in a non-emergency situation, addressing life-threatening HQS failures within 24 hours, and having rent increases approved by HPD before implementing.
You will receive an annual recertification package to fill out every year so that your subsidy may continue uninterrupted. Make sure to accurately fill out the information and submit the package back to HPD. Please, respond for any additional information requests timely. Failure to submit or submitting false information on an annual recertification package will jeopardize your subsidy.
Your household may experience changes in between annual certifications. You must report within 30 days any changes to your household composition. Though you are not required to report increases in your income, we encourage you to contact HPD right away if your income decreases. HPD will process changes after you submit documentation to make sure that your share of rent accurately reflects your household. This process is called an “interim certification.” In order to do an interim certification to make these changes for your household, you must report them to HPD by filling out this Declaration of Change in Household Composition and Income Form (Spanish), which includes instructions for sending back to HPD.
Biennial HQS inspections
In order to ensure that you are living in a healthy, safe environment, HPD will inspect your unit every two years. They will help identify any failures that either you or your property owner need to fix. Failure to repair tenant-caused failures or provide access to the unit will jeopardize your subsidy. HPD may inspect your unit earlier than two years if given just cause. You may also request an inspection at any time.
Subsequent Move Requests
Once you have moved into your new unit, you must stay in that unit for at least one year before you can request a move voucher to find a new unit unless you have an emergency. Leaving an assisted unit prior to HPD approval will jeopardize your subsidy.
If you are in an emergency situation, you may request to move at any time. This includes individuals who are victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking as well as individuals who believe they may experience a threat of imminent harm by remaining in the unit. To make a request for an emergency move, please email: Portability@hpd.nyc.gov. If you are in immediate danger, please call 911. You may also reach the City's 24-hour Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-621-HOPE (4673) for immediate safety planning, shelter assistance, and other resources.
5. Know the resources available in New York City
HPD Customer Service*
HPD Offices are currently closed due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. To submit documentation, reach customer service employees, or follow-up on any other HPD Section 8 inquiry, please visit the HPD DTR website at nyc.gov/hpd/dtr.
Human Resources Administration (HRA)
ACCESS NYC provides a single online location for New Yorkers to screen for benefit and program eligibility, learn how to apply, gather required documents, and find local help. Visit https://access.nyc.gov/ to see what benefits and assistance you are eligible for.
Emergency Cash Assistance
If you find yourself suddenly in need of cash because of a new family member’s food expenses, to pay back rent to avoid eviction, or in order to maintain or restore utilities, etc., the NYC Human Resource Administration (HRA) offers emergency cash assistance for certain circumstances. Visit the HRA website or call 311 for more information.
The HRA One-Shot Deal can provide emergency assistance for people who can’t pay an expense like moving costs, security deposit, or broker’s fee. You can apply for a one-shot deal online at ACCESS HRA.
If you find yourself at risk of eviction, Homebase provides a direct connection to case managers that can help, including assistance obtaining public benefits, emergency rental assistance, education and job placement, financial counseling and money management, help relocating, short-term financial assistance, property owner/family mediation, and more.
Office of Civil Justice
The “tenant’s right to counsel” in New York City ensures that anyone facing eviction in court has access to legal help. If you are facing an eviction case, a lawyer can help you by explaining the details of your case and giving you free legal advice; standing up in court for you and communicating for you with judges, lawyers, and court staff; raising legal objections to the property owner’s case against you; fighting for necessary repairs in your apartment, even if you might owe unpaid rent; protecting your rights as tenant, etc. Learn more about legal services for tenants.
Financial Empowerment Centers
New Yorkers can get free, one-on-one financial counseling at the NYC Department of Consumer and Worker Protection’s (DCWP) NYC Financial Empowerment Centers. The Center’s professional financial counselors can help with debt, credit, budgeting, opening a bank account, saving and planning for the future, separating personal and business finances, and much more. Make an appointment for free at nyc.gov/dca, by calling 311, or texting TalkMoney to 42033 (message and data rates may apply - check with your service provider).
DCWP also partners with a number of City agencies, such as NYC HPD’s Ready to Rent program, to help New Yorkers prepare to apply for affordable housing and the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities with EmpoweredNYC to bring specialized and confidential one-on-one financial counseling to New Yorkers with disabilities.
Affordable Housing Lottery
HPD’s Housing Connect and other available lottery units: NYC Housing Connect is a portal to find and apply for affordable rent-stabilized apartments created by HPD. Applicants with a housing voucher still qualify even if they make less or more than the income requirements. Learn more at nyc.gov/housingconnect.
HPD’s Housing Ambassadors can help you prepare and apply for Housing Connect’s lotteries. See their website to find an Ambassador near you at www.nyc.gov/housing-ambassadors.
Source of Income Discrimination
If you believe you or your household are victims of unlawful discrimination by your property owner or property owner, please consider reaching out to an agency who can help you.
New York City Commission on Human Rights
The New York City Commission on Human Rights is charged with the enforcement of the Human Rights Law, Title 8 of the Administrative Code of the City of New York, and with educating the public and encouraging positive community relations. The Commission is divided into two major bureaus -- Law Enforcement and Community Relations:
The New York City Human Rights Law is one of the most comprehensive civil rights laws in the nation. The Law prohibits discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations based on race, color, religion/creed, age, national origin, alienage or citizenship status, gender (including sexual harassment), gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, pregnancy, marital status, and partnership status.
In addition, the Law affords protection against discrimination in employment based on unemployment status; arrest or conviction record; credit history; caregiver status; status as a victim of domestic violence, stalking, and sex offenses; and sexual and reproductive health decisions.
The Law affords additional protections in housing based on lawful occupation, family status, any lawful source of income, and status as a victim of domestic violence, stalking, and sex offenses.
The City Human Rights Law also prohibits retaliation, discriminatory harassment, and bias-based profiling by law enforcement.
To file a discrimination complaint with the New York City Commission on Human Rights, please call 311 or 212-416-0197.
Fair Housing Justice Center
The Fair Housing Justice Center assists individuals and organizations with allegations of illegal housing discrimination. Our intake personnel can help sort out the facts, interview witnesses, review documents, and counsel individuals on their rights and options under all of the fair housing laws.
Family Justice Centers
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic or gender-based violence, help is available. Call 311 to be connected to the nearest Family Justice Center (FJC). Family Justice Centers are in every borough and offer free, confidential assistance for people experiencing domestic and gender-based violence, which can include sexual violence, human trafficking, stalking, intimate partner violence.
At any NYC FJC, survivors and their children can get connected to organizations that provide case management, economic empowerment, counseling, civil legal, and criminal legal assistance. All are welcome regardless of language, income, gender identity, or immigration status. Interpretation services are available on site at every FJC, and locations are wheelchair accessible. Call ahead to request other accommodations.
Domestic Violence Hotline
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic or gender-based violence, call the City’s 24-hour Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-621-HOPE (4673) for immediate safety planning, shelter assistance, and other resources. TTY: 800-810-7444. In an emergency, call 911.
DOE Family Welcome Centers can help with questions related to school admission, guidance for students new to New York City, information about offers and waitlists, and adding your child to waitlists and accepting/declining offers.
Advocates for Children offers a wide range of services for families with New York City students, including fact sheets, guides, workshops, and trainings to help families stand up for their children’s educational rights. See their website for more information on what specific help they can provide.