Family Changes

Last updated September 11, 2009

When do I report changes in my family?

Reporting changes in your family is just like reporting income. You will go through a recertification check at least once a year, and you will likely have to report any changes throughout the year. Read your lease to find out what is required. If someone leaves your household and your rent is based in part on their income, you should report that right away so your rent can be decreased.

How can I add someone to my household?

You have the responsibility to inform your housing authority of any person you wish to add to your lease,92 and should make a request for the addition to the manager. It is always best to put your request in writing and keep a copy. Some housing authorities have a required application form. You must obtain approval from the housing authority for the addition of a person to your household.

Children

In general, if the person being added to the household is just born to a household member, or where a household member has adopted or obtained court-awarded custody of a young child, you will not need advance permission from the housing authority to have a minor live with you in the interim before official approval. The housing authority is likely to want the birth certificate, adoption order, or copy of the court order. If the child is young, there will probably not be any screening. If the child is a teenager, however, the housing authority may wish to do a criminal record check to be sure that the teenager has not been adjudicated as an adult for any crimes.

Adults

If the person you want to add to your lease is an adult, the housing authority will probably require that the person be screened, which could include a screening of criminal history. The housing authority may also apply other rules it uses when admitting households with noncitizens to federal public housing. If the person you want to add to your lease is not approved, you should have the right to challenge this using the grievance procedure. For more information about screening and criminal history records and admissions rules related to noncitizens, see Legal Tactics: Finding Public and Subsidized Housing, Booklets 6 and 9, available at www.MassLegalHelp.org/housing.

Under housing authority leases, you have the right to have a guest stay with you for limited periods of time without advance approval of the housing authority. In state public housing, state regulations usually limit this period to 21 days during any 12-month period, unless the housing authority has received approval for a different time period.93 In federal public housing, each housing authority can set its own policy, as long as it is reasonable.94

You can ask the housing authority to let your proposed new household member stay with you during the guest period while you make the written request for an addition. The housing authority might agree to extend the period if the request is still going through screening.

If the person has been denied and you file a grievance.95 You can ask the housing authority to extend the time period for the person to stay while your grievance is pending.

If you lose the grievance, the housing authority will require that the proposed household member vacate the unit. Keep in mind that even if someone is related to you by marriage or blood, if that person has a criminal record, the housing authority may be able to refuse to allow them onto your lease. If you let the proposed new household member continue to live in the unit after your grievance has been deemed unsuccessful, the housing authority can terminate your tenancy because the person would be an unauthorized household member.

How do I remove someone from my lease?

In general, the head of household controls who lives in the public housing apartment and must submit a request to remove a household member from the lease. Often, 1the housing authority will ask for proof that a family member lives elsewhere before removing that person from your lease. This kind of proof can be a copy of a new lease, a utility bill, or a rent receipt in the person’s name.96

Domestic violence, separation or divorce

There may be cases where the head of household has engaged in domestic abuse toward other household members, or where there is a divorce or separation. If the family members cannot otherwise reach an agreement about who stays and who leaves, a court may determine who gets to stay in the apartment.

A federal law called the Violence Against Women Act of 2005 provides that a public housing authority may bifurcate (divide) a lease in in federal public housing in order to evict or remove an abuser, while allowing the person being victimized to stay.97

A housing authority may ask an individual to document or certify that he or she is or has been a victim of domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking. Such certification may include: police or court records documenting incidents of violence; or a statement, under oath, from a victim service provider, attorney or medical professional that there have been one or more incidents of abuse.98 The certification must be provided within 14 days of the housing authority’s request, although this deadline may be extended by the housing authority.

A housing authority also has a duty to provide reasonable and appropriate assistance to household members in federal public housing who are victims of domestic violence, including changing locks for those who have obtained abuse prevention orders and waiving (not charging) the cost to change the locks.99

If my housing authority says I am overhoused, what can happen to my rent?

If you are living in an apartment with more bedrooms than is determined to be appropriate for your household size, your housing authority can classify your household as overhoused and ask you to move to a smaller apartment. In state public housing, if you refuse to transfer to a smaller apartment of appropriate size offered by the housing authority, your rent can be increased to 150% of your usual rent.100 (See also Is my rent always based on my income?.)

In addition, in either state or federal public housing, if your household has been classified as overhoused and refuses to transfer to a smaller apartment, this could be grounds for eviction. If you think you have good cause (good reason) not to move to the smaller apartment, you should file a grievance. Some reasons to challenge the transfer include:

  • You are a veteran, surviving spouse of a veteran, or Gold Star Mother and allowed by state law to stay in your state public housing unit;101
  • You need to remain in your current apartment due to a disability or you require additional space because of medically required equipment;
  • The apartment you are offered is dangerous or not up to building or health codes;
  • You cannot climb the stairs or the apartment does not otherwise meet your needs for accessibility (for example, you have a wheelchair and the apartment is not wheelchair accessible or
  • The apartment is otherwise not appropriate.

For more information about how to file a grievance, see Using Your Public Housing Grievance Procedure.

Are there rules about being over-income for continued occupancy in public housing?

State public housing

Yes. For state public housing, if a family’s income is such that 30% (for elderly/disabled public housing) or 32% (for family public housing) of income is greater than the Section 8 FMR for the area for a comparably sized unit, the family is considered over-income for public housing. The family may be given a hardship exemption for up to 6 months to find other unsubsidized housing.109

Federal public housing

For federal public housing, HUD recently implemented an over-income rule which was part of legislation adopted by Congress in 2016. Under this rule, if a family’s income is greater than 120% of the Area Median Income (AMI) for 2 years in a row the family will be over-income and no longer have full rent and eviction protections.   For Boston in 2019, 120% of the AMI for a family of three would be $116,400/year.

While it is up to each housing authority to determine what its policy will be, a housing authority could proceed with eviction of an over-income family after 6 months. Or a housing authority could charge the family rent whichever is greater - either the Section 8 Fair Market Rent (FMR) or the amount of monthly subsidy for the unit (based on the operating and capital funds – a figure that HUD has not determined how to calculate).

If a family is only over-income for the first recertification but not the second, there is no negative action. Action only occurs where there are 2 consecutive findings of being over-income. In the cases where a housing authority does not choose to evict the family, and the family then drops below the over-income limit, the family can ask to be restored to regular rent protections. The family will only be subject to negative action again if there are 2 consecutive over-income findings.110

Endnotes

92 State: 760 C.M.R. § 6.06(3)(h Federal: 24 C.F.R. § 966.4(c)(2).

93 760 C.M.R. § 6.06(3)(c).

94 24 C.F.R. § 966.4(d)(1).

95 See Saxton v. Housing Authority of the City of Tacoma, 1 F.3d 881 (9th Cir. 1993) which held that a public housing tenant whose request to add a returning family member to a lease was denied has a right to a grievance hearing pursuant to 24 C.F.R. § 966.50.

96 760 C.M.R. § 6.06(3)(g).

97 42 U.S.C. § 1437d(l)(6)(B) 72 Federal Register 12697 at 12697, March 16, 2007. HUD has not yet issued any final regulations.

98 42 U.S.C. § 1437d(u)(1)(C), 72 Federal Register 12696 at 12698, March 16, 2007. HUD has not yet issued any final regulations.

99 State: 760 C.M.R. § 6.06(3)(f), 4(q)-(r).

100 State: G.L. c. 121B, § 32; 760 C.M.R. § 6.04(1)(c). Per 760 C.M.R. § 6.03, overhoused means a tenant household that the housing authority has determined, based upon the composition of the household, to be occupying a unit consisting of more bedrooms than is appropriate for the household size.

101 G.L. c. 121B, § 32, 9th paragraph (applies to apartments consisting of two bedrooms or fewer, provided that the tenant has lived in the apartment for at least the last eight consecutive years and that the rent is not more than three months in arrears).

109 See 760 C.M.R. § 5.06(2, 3) and 760 C.M.R. § 6.06(6)(f).

110 See 42 U.S.C. § 1437n(a)(5), 83 Fed. Reg. 35490 (July 26, 2018).

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