Yes. All federal and state public housing tenants must have a written lease that is signed by both you and the housing authority.123 If you do not sign a lease or a lease revision, the housing authority can start eviction proceedings against you.124
For Section 8 and MRVP tenants with tenant-based vouchers, you must sign a lease with your landlord and it must include an attachment called a lease "Addendum."125 For multifamily housing, you must also sign a lease, sometimes called an "Occupancy Agreement."126 Low-income housing tax credit and HOME properties will usually require a written lease initially, although some may change to a month-to-month arrangement at the end of the written lease.127 The Shelter Plus Care program requires an occupancy agreement, but it has a month-to-month term.128
Before you sign a lease, be sure that you read it and understand it. If there is any part that you do not understand, ask your landlord or a housing authority staff person to explain it to you. If you need to, you may take the lease home and go over it with a friend, family member, or an advocate.
Do I have to pay a security deposit or last month's rent when moving into public or subsidized housing?
That depends on the kind of housing where you will live.
For federal public housing, the housing authority is allowed to charge a security deposit not more than one month's rent, or a standard fixed amount not greater than one month's rent.129 There is no provision for charging a security deposit in state public housing, unless you ask to have a pet.130 There is no provision for charging a last month's rent in either state or federal public housing. For federal multifamily subsidized housing, a security deposit can be charged, but it is usually limited to the tenant's portion of the rent. Rules on what exactly can be charged vary by program. There is no provision for charging a last month's rent.131
For the Section 8 tenant-based voucher program, your landlord is allowed to charge you one month's full contract rent for a security deposit. The security deposit is not limited to your portion of the rent. 132 While there is no provision for charging a last month's rent, there is nothing specifically in federal regulations that would prohibit this. If an owner demands a last month's rent, it should be limited to your portion of the rent, since the owner will be paid by the housing agency for its portion of the rent for your last month.133
MRVP regulations are not clear on whether or how much of a security deposit can be charged. When the program was first established in the early 1990s, DHCD guidance was that a security deposit could be charged, but it was limited to the tenant's portion of the rent, and the program also paid for vacancy losses to the owner. It is likely that the same rules apply for security deposits and last month's rent as for the Section 8 voucher program.
123 Federal: 24 C.F.R. § 966.4(o) and (p), and HUD Public Housing Occupancy Guidebook, Part 5 (June 2003 State: 760 C.M.R. § 6.06(1) AND (5)(q).
124 Federal: 24 C.F.R. § 966.4(l)(2)(ii)(E State: 760 C.M.R. § 6.06(6)(1). In federal public housing, however, before any changes are made to the standard lease, charges or policies incorporated into the lease, or grievance procedures, all tenants should be given 30 days' written notice of the changes and a reasonable opportunity to comment on them. 24 C.F.R. §§ 966.3, 966.5, and 966.52(c). In state public housing, the housing authority must consult with any local tenants organization (LTO) before making any change in the lease, and in the event of a disagreement, the LTO may present its position to DHCD. 760 C.F.R. § 6.06(1).
125 Section 8: 24 C.F.R. § 982.308(f MRVP: 760 C.M.R. § 49.09(3).
126 For a summary of lease requirements for all federal multifamily programs, see HUD Multifamily Occupancy Handbook 4350.3 REV-1, CHG-3 (June 2009), Chapter 6. For a copy of the sample Occupancy Agreement for MassHousing multifamily developments, go to: MassHousing.
127 For the HOME program, see 24 C.F.R. § 92.253(a).
128 24 C.F.R. § 582.315.
129 24 C.F.R. § 966.4(b)(5).
130 760 C.M.R. § 6.07(2).
131 24 C.F.R.§§ 880.608, 881.601, 882.414, 883.701, 884.115, 886.116, 886.315, 891.435, 891.635, and 891.775; HUD Multifamily Occupancy Handbook 4350.3 REV-1, CHG-3 (June 2009), Chapter 6, § 2, and in particular Figure 6-6, which describes what can be charged for each program.
132 24 C.F.R. § 982.313.
133 HUD regulations previously specifically did not permit charging last month's rent for the Section 8 program, since the housing agency would reimburse the owner for any vacancy loss if the tenant moved out without prior notice. Attorney Gen. v. Brown, 400 Mass. 826 (1987) (issue of whether landlord unlawfully discriminated against Section 8 subsidy holders because of policy of not accepting tenants where last month's rent could not be collected). These regulations were changed in 1995. If an owner insisted that a Section 8 tenant pay the full contract rent as a last month's rent, this would likely be a violation of G.L. c. 151B, § 4(10).