Site Search:

Reasons for Denial

 

When can I be denied public housing?

The laws about public housing say that a housing authority sometimes must deny your application, and sometimes may deny your application. These laws are slightly different for state and federal public housing.

If you get a denial letter, you should read it carefully to see what the reasons for the denial are. If you have applied for both state and federal public housing at a housing authority that maintains separate waiting lists, the letter may say that one application has been denied but the other one is still being decided. If you have any questions about what your denial letter means, you should call the housing authority.

Federal public housing

If you are applying for federal public housing, a housing authority must deny your application if it finds that:

  • A household member is currently engaged in illegal use of a drug, or the Housing Authority has reasonable cause to believe a household member's illegal use of a drug or pattern of illegal use of a drug may threaten the health, safety, or right to peaceful enjoyment of the premises by other residents.1
  • The Housing Authority has reasonable cause to believe that a household member's abuse or pattern of abuse of alcohol may threaten the health, safety, or right to peaceful enjoyment of the premises by other residents.2

    Important

    before denying a person housing based on illegal drug use or alcohol abuse, a housing authority may consider evidence of rehabilitation3.
  • Any member of your household is subject to a lifetime registration requirement under a state sex offender registration program.4
  • Any household member has been convicted of the manufacture or production of methamphetamine in federally assisted housing.5
  • Any household member has been evicted from federally assisted housing for drug-related criminal activity within the past three years.6

    Important

    A housing authority can also let your household in if the person who engaged in the drug-related criminal activity has successfully completed a supervised, approved rehabilitation program, or if the circumstances leading to the eviction no longer exist—for example, the household member has died or is in jail.7

In addition to the automatic denials listed above, a housing authority may deny applicants "whose habits and practices reasonably may be expected to have a detrimental effect on the residents or the project environment."8 This means that a housing authority has wide discretion over whom it allows into its federal public housing programs. In general, this means a housing authority will consider your rent-paying history and will look at whether you have a record of disturbance of neighbors, destruction of property, or housekeeping habits at prior residences which may adversely affect the health, safety, or welfare of other tenants.9

State public housing

Massachusetts law sets out several reasons that a housing authority will deny an application for its state public housing program.10 Your application for state public housing will be denied if you or anyone in your household:

  • Have disturbed a neighbor or neighbors in a prior residence and continuing that behavior would substantially interfere with the rights of other tenants to peaceful enjoyment of their units or the rights of housing authority employees to a safe and secure workplace.
  • Have caused damage or destruction of property at a prior residence in a way that would, if repeated, have a serious effect on the public housing development or any of its units.
  • Have displayed living habits or poor housekeeping at a prior residence which, if continued, would pose a substantial threat to your health or safety, or that of other tenants, or public housing employees or would adversely affect the decent, safe, and sanitary condition of all or part of the housing.
  • Have engaged in criminal activity or discriminatory activity which, if repeated, would interfere with or threaten the rights of other tenants or housing authority employees.
  • Have a history of nonpayment of rent.

    Important

    if you paid at least 50% of your monthly income toward rent each month during a tenancy in private housing, but you could not pay the full rent, an eviction for nonpayment of rent is not a reason to deny your application for public housing. Also, if someone other than the person with the nonpayment history can assume responsibility for rent in the new housing, there will be no disqualification.
  • Have a history of failure to obey leases in a way that would be harmful to the health, safety, security, or peaceful enjoyment of other tenants or of housing authority employees.
  • Have failed to provide information reasonably necessary for the housing authority to process your application.
  • Have intentionally given false information as part the current application or a prior application filed within the last three years.
  • Have acted in an abusive or threatening way toward a housing authority employee during the application process or any prior application process within the last three years.
  • Does not intend to occupy public housing as your primary residence.
  • Are a current illegal user of one or more controlled substances.11

The state regulations require a housing authority to let you show mitigating circumstances, to explain why you should be admitted into public housing before rejecting you . This explanation can include proof that you or a household member have been rehabilitated or are in recovery, the length of time since you did anything objectionable, and many other factors.12

When can I be denied a voucher?

Section 8 vouchers

If you have applied for a Section 8 voucher, a housing agency must deny your application for certain reasons, and may—but is not required to—deny it for other reasons.

A housing authority must reject your application for a Section 8 voucher if it finds that you or someone in your household:

  • Have not signed a required consent or verification form.13
  • Have been evicted from housing assisted under the program for serious violation of the lease.14
  • Have not submitted information about your immigration status.15 For more information, see Immigrants and Housing.
  • Are a non-disabled, non-veteran student under 24 years old at a place of higher education, do not have a dependent child, and are not otherwise eligible for a voucher.16
  • Are currently engaged in use of an illegal drug.17
  • Have a history or pattern of abuse of illegal drugs or alcohol that the housing authority believes may threaten the health, safety, or peaceful enjoyment of other residents.18
  • Are subject to a lifetime registration requirement under a state sex offender registration program.19
  • Have been convicted of the manufacture or production of methamphetamine in federally assisted housing.20
  • Have been evicted from federally funded housing for drug-related criminal activity within the past three years.21

    Important

    A housing authority can let your household into the program if the household member who engaged in the drug-related criminal activity has successfully completed a supervised, approved rehabilitation program, or if the circumstances leading to the eviction no longer exist—for example, the household member has died or is in prison.22 You can also try to show that the person is no longer a member of the applying household.

A housing authority may—but is not required to—deny your application for a Section 8 voucher if you or a member of your household:23

  • Have been evicted from federally funded housing in the last five years.
  • Have ever been terminated from the Section 8 voucher program.
  • Have committed fraud, bribery, or any other corrupt or criminal act in connection with any federal housing program.
  • Currently owes rent or other amounts to any housing authority for a Section 8 or federal public housing tenancy.
  • Have not reimbursed any housing authority for money paid to a Section 8 landlord for rent, damage to the apartment, or other amounts owed under the lease.
  • Do not obey an agreement with the housing authority to pay amounts owed to the housing authority.
  • Have engaged in or threatened abusive or violent behavior toward housing authority staff.
  • Willfully and persistently fails to fulfill your obligations under the welfare-to-work voucher program.24
  • Are currently or were recently engaged in drug-related, violent, or other criminal activity that may threaten the safety or right to peaceful enjoyment of other residents, close neighbors, or employees of the housing authority.25

    Important

    If the housing authority determines previously denied admission engaged in criminal activity, the applicant can ask the housing authority to reconsider the application if the applicant can show evidence that the person who engaged in misconduct has not engaged in such behavior during what the housing authority thinks is a reasonable period.26

Alternative Housing Voucher (AHVP)

If you have a disability and apply for an Alternative Housing Voucher, you can be denied a voucher for the same reasons that you could be denied state public housing.27 See When can I be denied public housing?.

Massachusetts Rental Voucher (MHRVP)

If you have applied for a voucher through the Massachusetts Housing Voucher Program (MRVP), you can be denied housing for the same reasons that you could be denied state public housing. See When can I be denied public housing? You can also be denied MRVP if you or a member of your household:28

  • Owes back rent, damages, or vacancy loss payments to a housing authority and has not entered into a repayment agreement. (Vacancy loss payments are payments made by a housing authority to a landlord where a tenant vacated the unit without giving proper notice.)
  • Have failed to stay current with a repayment agreement with a housing authority for back rent, damages, or vacancy loss payments.
  • Have failed to comply with the terms of a repayment agreement, which includes repeated late or partial payments without a housing authority's prior approval.
  • Have been evicted for good cause from public housing or state-funded housing through a judgment for possession.

    Note

    The good cause must be related to tenant behavior, and does not include situations where the owner brought the eviction case for business, economic, or personal reasons and the tenant was not at fault.
  • Have failed to comply with the terms of an MRVP voucher.

When can I be denied private multifamily subsidized housing?

Federally subsidized housing

If you are applying for federally subsidized multifamily housing, an owner must reject your application if you or a member of your household:

  • Are currently using illegal drugs.29
  • Have a history of illegal drug use or abuse of alcohol that the owner believes may threaten the safety or right to peaceful enjoyment of other residents.30
  • Have been evicted from federally funded housing for drug-related criminal activity in the past three years or possibly longer.31 An owner could decide to let your household in if the person involved in the activity successfully completes an approved supervised drug rehabilitation program or has passed away or is in prison.32
  • Are subject to a lifetime registration requirement under a state sex offender registration program. The owner must check to see if any household members are subject to the requirement in Massachusetts and in other states where they have lived.33

An owner may—but is not required to—deny your application for reasons based on your past tenant history. The owner may also deny your application if you or a member of your household engaged in any drug-related criminal activity, violent criminal activity, or other criminal activity that may threaten the safety or right to peaceful enjoyment of other residents, people living in the immediate vicinity, or the owner's employees.34 The rules do not state how recently before your application these actions would have had to occur in order to disqualify you from federally subsidized housing.35

The owner may also allow the family to be admitted to the housing development, but not admit the individual household member who caused the problem.36

In evaluating your application, owners of federally subsidized housing must consider factors about the person who engaged in the misconduct, such as:

  • How involved the person was in the bad behavior.
  • How serious the offense was.
  • Whether the person has gone through rehabilitation.
  • What effect denying housing to an entire family will have on innocent household members.
  • Whether the person has taken steps to mitigate the problem.37

An owner of federal multifamily housing can also visit your apartment to evaluate your housekeeping.38

State-subsidized housing

If you are applying for subsidized multifamily housing which is funded through the state agency, MassHousing (formerly Massachusetts Housing Finance Agency, MHFA), the owner or management company could reject your application if it appears that:

  • There is a reasonable risk that you may be unable or unwilling to pay the rent.
  • There is a reasonable risk that you or someone in your control may interfere with other residents' health, safety, security, or right to peaceful enjoyment of their apartments.
  • There is a reasonable risk that you or someone under your control may intentionally damage or destroy property.
  • You lied on your application for housing.39

Before a MassHousing owner denies your application, the owner must consider whether the people who gave you negative references are biased against you in some way—for example, a former landlord is still angry with you because you called the board of health.

The owner must also consider how recent the information about you is, as well as whether there are any mitigating circumstances, that is, reasons why you should be given another chance to show that your behavior is different and better now than it was before. This would include rehabilitation efforts. If you have a history of nonpayment of rent in private-market apartments, the MassHousing owner must look at how much of your income you had to pay for rent and whether the MassHousing subsidy would help your financial situation so that you would be able to afford the rent.40

Can I be denied housing because of a criminal record or a history of substance abuse?

Yes, you can be denied housing because of a criminal record or history of substance abuse. The exact reasons for denial depend on the type of housing you are applying for. In general, the following categories of behavior automatically prevent you, either permanently or for a limited time, from getting certain types of housing. In all other cases, landlords are supposed to consider whether circumstances in your life are different now or whether there is evidence that you are likely to be a good tenant. It will be up to you, however, to make your case.

Currently using illegal drugs

If you or any member of your household are currently using illegal drugs, you must be denied federally funded and state-funded housing.41 For state-funded public housing and MRVP and AHVP vouchers, a housing authority may presume that use of illegal drugs within the past 12 months demonstrates current use, unless you can persuade them that all use of illegal drugs has permanently stopped.42

History of illegal drug use or abuse of alcohol

If you apply to federally funded housing, a housing agency or subsidized landlord must deny you assistance if it reasonably believes that you or any member of your household has a history of substance abuse that will interfere with the rights of other tenants.43 The housing agency or subsidized landlord must, however, consider whether the abuse has stopped or whether a person has successfully completed a supervised rehabilitation program or been rehabilitated.44 This denial requirement does not apply to state-funded housing. Most state-funded public housing authorities will however, screen applicants for a pattern of alcohol or drug abuse that affects other residents, and they may deny admission for this reason.

Evicted for drug-related criminal activity

If you or any member of your household has been evicted from federal housing for drug-related criminal activity, you are generally not eligible for (are barred from) federally funded housing for a three-year period from the time of eviction.45 A housing authority or owner may, however, choose to have a longer period of disqualification, as long as it is "reasonable." Drug-related criminal activity includes the illegal manufacture, sale, distribution, or use of any illegal drug, or possession of any illegal drug with intent to manufacture, sell, distribute or use, the drug.46 This three-year automatic bar does not apply to state housing, but state-aided housing authorities will screen applicants for any past eviction from subsidized housing.

Convicted of manufacturing speed

If you or someone in your household has been convicted of manufacturing or producing methamphetamine (speed), you are permanently not eligible for (are barred from) federal public housing, Section 8 vouchers, and developments funded through the Section 8 moderate rehabilitation program.47 This mandatory bar does not apply to other federal multifamily housing programs or any state-funded housing programs.

Lifetime sex offender registration requirement

If anyone in your household is subject to a lifetime registration requirement under a state sex offender registration program, you arel permanently ineligible for federal public housing, a Section 8 voucher, and certain federally funded multifamily housing.48 This permanent bar does not apply to state-funded housing programs.49

Criminal activity

Housing agencies and subsidized landlords may—but are not required to—deny you federally funded housing due to any drug-related or violent criminal activity, or any other criminal activity that may threaten the health, safety, or right to peaceful enjoyment of other residents, people living in the immediate vicinity; or employees of the housing agency or landlord.50 Before a housing authority or subsidized landlord can deny your application for housing, they must give you an opportunity to challenge the accuracy or relevance of your criminal record. See Tenant Screening.

You can also be denied admission to state-funded housing programs for criminal activity which, if repeated, would threaten the rights of other tenants or housing authority employees to be secure in their persons or in their property.51

Note

If you are denied admission because you have engaged in certain crimes, such as prostitution or soliciting sex, you may be able to argue to the landlord that these are not crimes that threatened the health, safety, or peaceful enjoyment of tenants, neighbors, or employees.

Endnotes

1 24 C.F.R. § 960.204(a)(2): A household member is "currently engaged in" illegal use of a drug if the person has engaged in the behavior recently enough to justify a reasonable belief that the behavior is current.

2 24 C.F.R. § 960.204(b).

3 24 C.F.R. § 960.203(d)(2).

4 24 C.F.R. § 960.204(a)(4).

5 42 U.S.C. § 1437n(f); 24 C.F.R. § 960.204(a)(3).

6 24 C.F.R. § 960.204(a)(1). See also 24 C.F.R. § 5.100 for definition of drug-related criminal activity, and 21 U.S.C. § 802, which defines the term "controlled substance."

7 42 U.S.C. § 1366l(a); 24 C.F.R. § 960.204(a)(1).

8 24 C.F.R. § 960.202(a)(2)(iii).

9 24 C.F.R. § 960.203(c)(1) and (2).

10 760 C.M.R. § 5.08(1)(a) through (k).

11 According to 760 C.M.R. § 5.08(1)(k), a person's "illegal use of a controlled substance within the preceding 12 months shall create a presumption that such person is a current illegal user of a controlled substance, but the presumption may be overcome by a convincing showing that the person has permanently ceased all illegal use of controlled substances." This disqualification does not apply to applicants for housing provided through a treatment program.

12 See 760 C.M.R. § 5.08(2), which requires a housing authority to consider all relevant circumstances, including the severity of the behavior, the time since the behavior occurred, the danger and disruption to others if you engaged in that behavior in public housing, and the likelihood that your behavior has improved.

13 24 C.F.R. § 982.552(b)(3).

14 24 C.F.R. § 982.552(b)(2).

15 24 C.F.R. § 982.552(b)(4); 24 C.F.R. §§ 5.500 et seq.

16 24 C.F.R. § 982.552(b)(5); 24 C.F.R. § 5.612. These grounds of denial apply only to an individual student, not the entire household. An institution of higher education is defined in 20 U.S.C. § 1002.

17 24 C.F.R. § 982.553(a)(1)(ii)(A).

18 24 C.F.R. § 982.553(a)(1)(ii)(B).

19 24 C.F.R. § 982.553(a)(2)(i).

20 42 U.S.C. § 1437n(f); 24 C.F.R. § 982.553(a)(1)(ii)(C).

21 24 C.F.R. § 982.553(a)(1)(i). See 24 C.F.R. § 5.100 for definition of drug-related criminal activity , and 21 U.S.C. § 802(6) for definition of the term "controlled substance."

22 42 U.S.C. § 13661(a); 24 C.F.R. § 982.553(a)(1)(i).

23 See 24 C.F.R. § 982.552(c)(1)(i) through (vii), (ix) through (xi).

24 24 C.F.R. § 982.552(c)(1)(x).

25 24 C.F.R. § 982.552(c)(1)(xi). See 24 C.F.R. § 5.100 (for definition of drug-related criminal activity and "violent criminal activity"). 42 U.S.C. § 1366l(c); 24 C.F.R. § 982.553(a)(2)(ii). See 124 Green Street, LLC v. Rogers, No. 04-SP-00040 (NE Housing Court, Feb. 24, 2004) (in a Section 8 termination case, court found that the housing authority cannot terminate based on a criminal record that showed that charges against tenant were dismissed. Evidence that charges are dismissed cannot be evidence of guilt.).

26 42 U.S.C. § 1366l(c); 24 C.F.R. § 982.553(a)(2)(ii)(C).

27 760 C.M.R. § 5.08(3).

28 760 C.M.R. § 49.03(2).

29 Federal multifamily housing: 42 U.S.C. § 13661(b)(1)(A); 24 C.F.R. § 5.854(b)(1); Section 8 moderate rehabilitation program: 24 C.F.R. § 882.518(a)(l)(iii).

30 Illegal Drugs: Federal multifamily housing: 42 U.S.C. § 13661(b)(1)(B); 24 C.F.R.§ 5.854(b)(2); Section 8 moderate rehabilitation program: 24 C.F.R. § 882.518(a)(l)(iii); Alcohol abuse: Federal multifamily housing: 24 C.F.R. § 5.857; Section 8 moderate rehabilitation program: 24 C.F.R. § 882.518(b)(4).

31 42 U.S.C. § 13661(a).

32 42 U.S.C. § 13661(b)(2); Federal multifamily housing: 24 C.F.R. § 5.854(a); Section 8 moderate rehabilitation program: 24 C.F.R. § 882.518(a)(1)(i).

33 42 U.S.C. § 13663; Federal multifamily housing: 24 C.F.R. § 5.856; Section 8 moderate rehabilitation program: 24 C.F.R. § 882.518(a)(2); Federal sex offender registration: 42 U.S.C. § 14071(a)(3); 42 U.S.C. § 14072(b-d); Massachusetts Sex Offender Registry Board: G.L. c. 6, §§ 178C-178P; 803 C.M.R. § 1.00.

34 42 U.S.C. § 13661(c); Federal multifamily housing: 24 C.F.R. § 5.855(a); Section 8 moderate rehabilitation program: 24 C.F.R. § 882.518(b)(1).

35 42 U.S.C. § 13661(c); Federal multifamily housing: 24 C.F.R. § 5.855(b); Section 8 moderate rehabilitation program: 24 C.F.R. § 882.518(b)(2).

36 24 C.F.R. § 5.852(b).

37 Federal multifamily housing: 24 C.F.R. § 5.852(a); Section 8 moderate rehabilitation program: 24 C.F.R. § 882.518.

38 HUD Multifamily Occupancy Handbook 4350.3 REV-1, CHG-3 (June 2009), Chapter 4.

39 MHFA Model Tenant Selection Plan, REV. 9/09, Attachment 2 found at MassHousing.

40 Id.

41 Federal: 42 U.S.C. § 13661(b)(1); Federal public housing: (drugs) 24 C.F.R. § 960.204(a)(2), and (alcohol) 24 C.F.R. § 960.204(b); Federal multifamily housing:(drugs) 24 C.F.R. § 5.854(b)(1), and (alcohol) 24 C.F.R. § 5.857; Section 8 moderate rehabilitation program: (alcohol) 24 C.F.R. § 882.518(b)(4), and (drugs) 24 C.F.R. § 882.518(a); Section 8 voucher program: (drugs) 24 C.F.R. § 982.553(a)(1), and (alcohol) 24 C.F.R. § 982.553(b)(3); State public housing, Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program, Alternative Rental Housing Program: 760 C.M.R. § 5.08(1)(k).

42 760 C.M.R. § 5.08(1)(k). State regulations specifically exclude housing authorities from the requirement to consider mitigating factors in making their decision to accept or deny the applicant when the basis of the denial is current use of illegal drugs. See 760 C.M.R. § 5.08(2), which cross-references 5.08(1)(a)-(j), thereby excluding (k).

43 Federal public housing: 24 C.F.R § 960.204(a)(2).

44 42 U.S.C. § 13661(b)(2); Federal public housing: 24 C.F.R. § 960.203(d)(2). The applicable federal statute and regulations state that the agency may consider mitigating circumstances. However, the requirement in disability laws that housing providers make reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities (including alcoholism and past substance abuse addiction) mandates consideration of mitigating factors.

45 42 U.S.C. § 13661(a); Federal public housing: 24 C.F.R. § 960.204(a)(1).

46 42 U.S.C. § 1437a(b)(9); 24 C.F.R. § 5.100. As of January, 2009, it is no longer a crime to possess less than one ounce of marijuana. See G.L. c. 94C, § 32L. It is unclear at this time how housing authorities will treat such an offense in the future.

47 42 U.S.C. § 1437n(f); Federal public housing: 24 C.F.R. § 960.204(a)(3); Section 8 moderate rehabilitation program: 24 C.F.R. § 882.518(a)(1)(ii); Section 8 voucher program: 24 C.F.R. § 982.553(a)(1)(ii)(C).

48 42 U.S.C. § 13663(a); Federal public housing: 24 C.F.R. § 960.204(a)(4); Federal multifamily housing: 24 C.F.R. § 5.856; Section 8 moderate rehabilitation program: 24 C.F.R. § 882.518(a)(2); Section 8 voucher program: 24 C.F.R. § 982.553(a)(2)(i).

49 Federal sex offender registration: 42 U.S.C. § 14071(a)-(b); 42 U.S.C. § 14072(b)-(d); Massachusetts Sex Offender Registry Board: G.L. c. 6, §§ 178C-178Q; 803 C.M.R. §§ 1.00 et seq.

50 The language varies slightly according to the particular program. Federal: 42 U.S.C. § 13661(c); Federal public housing: 24 C.F.R. § 960.203(c)(3) (only makes reference to "other tenants"); Federal multifamily housing: 24 C.F.R. § 5.855(a); Section 8 moderate rehabilitation program: 24 C.F.R. § 882.518 (b)(1); Section 8 voucher program: 24 C.F.R. § 982.553(a)(2)(ii); State: G.L. c. 121B, § 32; 760 C.M.R. § 5.08(1)(d).As of January, 2009, it is no longer a crime to possess less than one ounce of marijuana. See G.L. c. 94C, § 32L. It is unclear at this time how housing authorities will treat such an offense in the future

51 G.L. c. 121B, § 32; 760 C.M.R. § 5.08(1)(d).


Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Last updated December 2009


Feedback

Was the page helpful? *
    

Please help us cut down on spam. Type the letters you see into the box below.
captcha


Find Legal Aid

You may qualify for free legal assistance from your local legal aid program.

If you are seeking a free attorney,  Find Legal Aid

Ask a Law Librarian

If it's
Monday-Friday
between
9am and 4pm