When must I report changes in my household’s income?

Required yearly reporting

If you live in federal or state public housing, you are required to report
your household’s income and composition at least once a year. Some housing
authorities calculate the annual reporting date based on the anniversary of
your move-in date. Others check incomes for all tenants at the same time. The
information you give the housing authority must be accurate.

For state public housing, this is called the annual redetermination of rent;66 for
federal public housing this is called reexamination.67. Both
state and federal public housing also refer to this as recertification.


Additional or interim reporting

In both federal and state public housing, there are rules about reporting
income increases between yearly rent recertifications. This is referred to
as interim reporting.


In federal public housing, each housing authority can set
its own interim reporting policy for when you must report
changes in your family’s income and household composition. This policy
must be spelled out in your lease.68 Read
your lease carefully. It will tell you of any deadlines for reporting income
changes. If your income goes down, it is a good idea to report this immediately.
See When can I ask for a decrease in rent?.

Some housing authorities do not require reporting, while others do if the
household income goes up by a certain amount. In state public housing, you are required to report when
there is any increase in your household’s monthly gross income by
10% or more from what you last reported. Generally, you must report this by
the 7th day of the month following the month in which the increase occurred.69 Check
your lease for the exact reporting requirements. (If the increase was anticipated
in the prior calculation of your rent, you do not have to report it.)


If in January you reported at the yearly rent redetermination that
your household’s gross income was $15,000, and in May your household’s
income increased by $1,500, you are required to report this to the housing
authority by June 7th.

In addition, if you live in state public housing and you receive any lump
payment of income later than it normally would have been paid
(such as payment of past-due workers’ compensation benefits, SSI or
SSDI lump sums, or retroactive salary increases) and this income was not
previously counted in determining your rent, you must report this within
7 days. The housing authority may impose a one-time retroactive rent
charge on this amount and the tenant must pay that charge within 30
days.70 Some housing authorities have
obtained permission from the state housing agency to have different rules
on interim reporting, so check your lease.71

Flat rents

If you live in federal public housing and have chosen a flat rent,
required reexamination of your family’s income occurs
once every 3 years, not once a year.72 You
may, however, ask the housing authority to tell you what the income-based
rent would be to see if you would do better with a flat rent or an
income-based rent.73 The
housing authority can ask you to give income information so they can make this calculation.74

If my income goes up and I do not report this right away, can I get in trouble?

Maybe. It depends on what your lease says. Even though you have a yearly income
check (recertification), you may have to report increases
in your income throughout the year when they happen. See When
must I report changes in my household's income?
about interim reporting.
If you do not report the change in income as required by your lease, two things
could happen (depending on what’s in your lease):

  • The housing authority could try to charge you for the back rent that could
    have been charged if there had been proper reporting.75 This
    is sometimes called a retroactive rent increase. See Can
    the housing authority increase my rent if I have paid it?
    . The housing
    authority may also try to charge you interest or a late payment penalty
    on the unpaid amount.76

  • The housing authority could try to evict you for failure to properly report
    your income. You may be able to prevent your eviction in court if the failure
    to properly report an income increase was for good cause or
    the amount of the unpaid rent is relatively small in comparison to the
    rent that normally would have been paid.77

If you had a good reason for not reporting certain income, make sure you let
the housing authority know this. For example, if you did not think that certain
income counted, or you misunderstood your lease, or a family member did not
tell you about a change in income, tell the housing authority this. While it
is likely you will have to pay back what is owed, the housing authority may
agree to not charge a penalty or may agree to stop the eviction and instead
give you a reasonable payment plan.

For federal public housing, many housing authorities use a computer program operated by U.S. Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD’s) called the Enterprise Income Verification system. Housing authorities use this computer matching system to identify families who have unreported income. Housing authorities can get the following information: new hire information, quarterly wage, employer information, quarterly unemployment compensation, monthly Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, and Medicare deductions.78 State public housing also has a computerized system called Wage Match that allows housing authorities to verify income information for adult household members against the state Department of Revenue records.79

What should I do if my income changes a lot during the year?

The housing authority sets your rent based on anticipated income.80 That
means that it must make its best guess about what your income is going to be
for the next 12 months.

Usually the housing authority will rely on information from your employer
about what you have earned to date and are likely to earn over the next 12
months. Sometimes it will calculate based on an average of recent paystubs,
including overtime.

If you think the housing authority has incomplete information, or does not
accurately show what your income is likely to be for the next year, you should
try to give the housing authority better information. If you provide updated
information to the housing authority and it still sets your rent higher than
you think it should be based on the information you have submitted, you have
the right to request a grievance hearing.
For more about filing a grievance, see Using
Your Public Housing Grievance Procedure

If you work only a certain number of months each year (a common situation
with those who work in schools, for example), you have two options for rent:

  • You can ask that your 10-month income be stretched over the 12-month period.
    This would result in a lower rent than would otherwise be the case in the
    months that you work, but a higher rent in the months you are not working;
  • You can ask to have your rent calculated for the 10-month period that you
    are employed, and then request a rent decrease for the months that you are
    not employed.

The same applies to changes in overtime or in hours of employment. If your
rent was set initially based on certain assumptions about overtime or hours
and you end up doing substantially less overtime or have your hours reduced,
you should request a change in your rent. If, on the other hand, fluctuations
in your hours or overtime were built into the initial rent calculation (the
housing authority averaged out the information, and that average hasn’t
really changed), there would be no basis for an adjustment.

Can the housing authority retroactively increase my rent?

State public housing

If you live in state public housing, a housing authority can increase your
rent retroactively (going back in time), but in only two circumstances:

  • If you did not properly report your income, deductions, exclusions, or household composition as required by the lease, and the housing authority
    later discovers the mistake.81
  • If you did not complete your recertification in a timely
    manner, the housing authority can make a rent increase back to the time that
    the recertification would have taken effect. This applies to both the yearly
    recertification and any interim recertification required
    by the lease.82

If, on the other hand, you gave the housing authority the proper information
in a timely manner, but the housing authority failed to process it, the rent
increase can be effective only for a future date.

Federal public housing

If you live in federal public housing, there are no specific rules about whether
rents can be increased retroactively. That policy is left
up to each housing authority.83 The
policy must be stated in your lease.

What kind of notice am I supposed to get about a rent increase?

State public housing

If you live in state public housing, the housing authority must give you
at least 14 days written notice of a rent increase prior to the increase, and
the rent increase must be effective on the first day of a month.84 This
rule applies unless the housing authority has received permission from the
Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) to adopt a different

Advance notice is not required, however, if you did not properly or timely
report any income or income changes in the past, and the housing authority
later discovers this error and corrects it. See Can the housing
authority retroactively increase my rent?

Federal public housing

The federal rules leave this policy to each housing authority to set, and
the policy must be in your lease.85

When can I ask for a decrease in rent?

As soon as you know of a change in your circumstances—like
a loss of income, loss of child support, or a change in deductible expenses
listed in What household expenses must be deducted before setting rent? or a change in your family or immigration status that would reduce your pro-rated rent—you should let the housing authority
know and ask to have your rent recalculated.86

To protect yourself, put your request in writing and include:

  • Information about the change in your circumstances; for example, that your
    work time went down from 20 to 10 hours per week; and
  • The month in which the income change happened.

Write on your request the date you are notifying the housing authority. This
date is very important in terms of establishing when the decrease should happen.

Make a copy of your letter for your records. Then go to the housing authority
office and give them your written request. Ask them stamp or write the date that you are giving them the letter right on the letter. Then ask them to put it in your tenant
file. Because you have put your request in writing and dated this letter (and
kept a copy), it can be determined later when you first notified the housing
authority of the change in your circumstances, even if you cannot provide third-party verification at
the time.

If you live in federal public housing and are on a flat rent,
the flat rent cannot be adjusted based on changes in your income. You can,
however, ask to be switched to an income-based rent because
of economic hardship. See Is my rent always based on my income?

If you are paying a minimum rent, you can ask for a hardship
if you are without income. See Question 11.

When should a rent decrease take effect?

If you did not report the income loss right away, the housing authority will
usually have no obligation to make a rent adjustment for the time period before
you informed them of the income loss. In some cases, however, where a disability
is involved, the housing authority may be able to make what is called a reasonable
and decrease the rent for the time before you told them
about your income change.

If you reported your income loss immediately, the effective date of a rent
decrease depends on whether you live in state or federal public housing.

State public housing

If you informed the housing authority immediately about a decrease in income,
a rent decrease must become effective—at the latest—on the first
day of the month following receipt of information verifying your change in income.87 The
housing authority may wait until it obtains adequate verification of
your change in circumstances and what your likely new income will be before
making the rent change.

Adequate verification could be, for instance, a layoff letter from your employer
or a notice from the welfare office about a decrease in your cash assistance.
However, once the housing authority obtains adequate verification, it must
make the rent change, and may make the rent decrease effective for an earlier
date (the first day of the month following the decrease) if this is warranted
by the circumstances that delayed receipt of verified information.88

Federal public housing

While each housing authority can set its own policy about when a rent decrease
should become effective, federal regulations require that a housing authority
act on a request within a reasonable time.89

After your notification to the housing authority, you should receive from
the housing authority, at a minimum, a written notice stating the new rent,
the effective date, and your right to request an explanation about how the
rent was calculated. If you request an explanation, the housing authority should
explain to you how the calculation was done, what was counted as income, and
what deductions or exclusions were used.
Some housing authorities include this information in the rent increase notice.

Advocacy tip:

If you and other tenants are involved in reviewing or commenting on housing
authority policies, you may want to press for a policy where the rent decrease
takes effect the first month after the change in circumstances is reported
to the housing authority.90

What if I told the housing authority that my income went down, but they did
not lower my rent?

First go to the housing authority office and ask them why they did not lower
your rent. They could be waiting for verification of your

If the housing authority does not lower your rent after you speak with them,
you can file a grievance in writing with the housing authority,
stating that you want a hearing on their failure to lower
your rent. To do this, write a short letter asking for a grievance hearing
and submit it to the housing authority’s main office or the development’s
management office. The housing authority should grant you a hearing after they
get your letter. You will get a letter telling you when and where the hearing

When you go to the hearing, bring proof of your income. Be prepared to show
when your income dropped and, if possible, bring evidence of when you told
the housing authority about the change in your income. Tell the grievance panel
or hearing officer that the law requires the housing authority to lower your
rent when your income drops.

For more about filing a grievance, see Using
Your Public Housing Grievance Procedure

What papers do I need to prove my income?

The process of proving what your income is or what deductions you
may be entitled to is called verification.91

As a tenant in public housing, you are required to provide reasonable and necessary documentation
of your income and expenses. For example, for wages, interest, dividends, annuities,
pensions, or other income, you may be asked to submit copies of your prior
year’s tax forms (including W-2 forms, W-2G forms, and 1099 forms.)

Both state and federal public housing programs may also require verification
of income, assets, and expenses directly from others—“third parties”—such
as employers.

Be prepared—the verification process can be slow.

66 760
C.M.R. § 6.04(4).

67 24
C.F.R. § 960.257(a 42 U.S.C. § 1437a(a)(1), (a)(2)(E).

68 24 C.F.R. § 960.257(b), (c 24 C.F.R. § 966.4(c)(1). Also check the housing authority’s Public Housing Agency Plan and its Admissions and Continued Occupancy Plan. Residents have a right to review and comment on housing authority policy changes that affect federal public housing residents through the Public Housing Authority Planning Process.

69 760
C.M.R. § 6.04(5)(a).

70 760
C.M.R. § 6.04(9).

71 760
C.M.R. § 6.10.

72 24
C.F.R. § 960.257(a)(2 24 C.F.R. § 960.253(e)(2 42 U.S.C. § 1437a(a)(2)(E).

73 24
C.F.R. § 960.253(e)(2), (f). Note that the housing authority is obligated to
provide sufficient information for families to make informed choices about
rent options. If the family chooses a flat rent, the housing authority must
provide the amount of income-based rent if an income reexamination is conducted
or if the family makes a specific request and submits updated income information.
See also 42 U.S.C. § 1437a(a)(2)(A)(i), stating that a public housing
agency may not at any time fail to provide both flat and income-based rent
options for any housing unit owned, assisted, or operated by the agency.

74 24
C.F.R. § 960.253(e)(2).

75 760
C.M.R. § 6.04(4)(d), (5)(a).

76 760
C.M.R. §§ 6.04(5)(a), (8), (9).

77 760
C.M.R. § 6.04(8).

78 Find more information about HUD’s Enterprise Income Verification system at: www.hud.gov/offices/pih/programs/ph/rhiip/uivsystem.cfm

79 DHCD Public Notice 2008-12 at: www.mass.gov/Ehed/docs/dhcd/ph/publicnotices/08-12.pdf

80 State:
760 C.M.R. § 6.04(4)(d Federal: 24 C.F.R. § 5.609(a)(2).

81 760
C.M.R. § 6.04(4)(e), (5)(a).

82 760
C.M.R. § 6.04(4)(d).

83 24
C.F.R. § 966.4(b)(1)(i).

84 760
C.M.R. § 6.04(4)(d).

85 24
C.F.R. § 966.4(b)(1)(ii).

86 State:
760 C.M.R. § 6.04(5)(b Federal: 24 C.F.R. § 960.257(b).

87 760
C.M.R. § 6.04(5)(b).

88 760
C.M.R. § 6.04(5)(b).

89 24
C.F.R. § 960.257(b).

90 This
policy has been adopted by HUD for its multifamily privately owned subsidized
housing. HUD Multifamily Occupancy Handbook, 4350.3 CHG-1
(Aug. 2004), Chapter 7 at 7-13.

91 State: 760 C.M.R. § 6.04(6 Federal: 24 C.F.R. § 960.259;
24 C.F.R. § 5.240.

Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Last Updated September 11, 2009
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