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Screening Affordable Housing Tenants for Drug Abuse and Other Criminal Activity

Dealing with Section 8 tenants who may be involved with drugs or addiction is hard enough for a family.  But, according to the HUD Occupancy handbook, the Owner/Agent has the responsibility to protect the residents;  “Owners must establish written screening criteria to prohibit the admission of certain individuals who have engaged in drug-related criminal behavior, or are subject to a state lifetime sex offender registration program, or are individuals whose abuse or pattern of abuse of alcohol interferes with the health, safety, or right to peaceful enjoyment of the premises by other residents.”  I always fall back on my own experience with addiction as I have been sober for almost 28 years.  There are questions that can be asked when an applicant says that they had a problem with drugs and drinking but now they are “okay”.  You first must be armed with some information…like what?  How about obtaining the AA/NA meeting list for your area so you can ask questions like; What is your favorite meeting?  How many meetings a week do you go to?  Do you have a sponsor?  Did you get a “Chip”? (a “chip” is a celebratory coin that folks get once they have accomplished a certain period of sobriety)  Where did you go to Rehab?  How long was your stay there?  This should be part of your screening process as well as the interview.  Asking the right questions will help to ensure the safety of your existing residents.  AHTCS offers a class for the Applicant/Tenant interviewing process:  http://www.AHTCSonline.com/regform.php.  Here are so more steps to the process:

Your Tenant selection plans must contain screening criteria that include standards **for** prohibiting admission of those who have engaged in drug-related or criminal activity. The plan may, under certain circumstances, include additional provisions that deny admission to applicants for other drug and criminal activity.

Owners must establish standards that prohibit admission of:

a. Any household containing a member(s) who was evicted in the last three years from federally assisted housing for drug-related criminal activity. The owner may, but is not required to, consider two exceptions to this provision:

(1) The evicted household member has successfully completed an approved, supervised drug rehabilitation program; or

(2) The circumstances leading to the eviction no longer exist (e.g., the household member no longer resides with the applicant household).

b. A household in which any member is currently engaged in illegal use of drugs or for which the owner has reasonable cause to believe that a member’s illegal use or pattern of illegal use of a drug may interfere with the health, safety, and right to peaceful enjoyment of the property by other residents;

c. Any household member who is subject to a state sex offender lifetime registration requirement; and

d. Any household member if there is reasonable cause to believe that member’s behavior, from abuse or pattern of abuse of alcohol, may interfere with the health, safety, and right to peaceful enjoyment by other residents.

The screening standards must be based on behavior, not the condition of alcoholism or alcohol abuse.

Owners may establish additional standards that prohibit admission if the owner determines that any household member is currently engaging in, or has engaged in, the following activities during a reasonable time before the admission decision:

a. Drug-related criminal activity. The owner may include additional standards beyond the required standards that prohibit admission in the case of eviction from federally assisted housing for drug related criminal activity and current drug use.

b. Violent criminal activity.

c. Other criminal activity that threatens the health, safety, and right to peaceful enjoyment of the property by other residents or the health and safety of the owner, employees, contractors, sub-contractors, or agents of the owner.

NOTE:.* If an owner’s admission policy includes any of the activities above or similar restrictions that uses a standard regarding a household member’s current or recent actions, the owner may define the length of time prior to the admission decision during which the applicant must not have engaged in the criminal activity. The owner shall ensure that the relevant “reasonable” time period is uniformly applied to all applicants in a non-discriminatory manner and in accordance with applicable fair housing and civil rights laws.*

An owner’s screening criteria also may include the following provisions:

a. Exclusion of culpable household members. An owner may require an applicant to exclude a household member when that member’s past or current actions would prevent the household from being eligible.

b. Drug or alcohol rehabilitation. When screening applications, an owner may consider whether the appropriate household member has completed a supervised drug or alcohol rehabilitation program. The owner may require appropriate documentation of the successful completion of a rehabilitation program.

c. Length of mandatory prohibition. The owner may set a period longer than required by the regulation (as described in subparagraph C.2 above) that prohibits admission to a property for disqualifying behavior. For those behaviors that would result in denial for a “reasonable time,” the owner must define a reasonable period in the tenant selection plan.

d. Reconsideration of previously denied applicants. An owner may reconsider the application of a previously denied applicant if the owner has sufficient evidence that the members of the household are not and have not engaged in criminal activity for a reasonable period of time. The owner must define a reasonable period of time in the tenant selection plan. * When the owner chooses to adopt this admission provision, the owner must require the household member to submit documentation to support the reconsideration of the decision which includes:

(1) A certification that states that she or he is not currently engaged in such criminal activity and has not engaged in such criminal activity during the specified period.

(2) Supporting information from such sources as a probation officer, a landlord, neighbors, social service agency worker or criminal record(s) that were verified by the owner.*

e. Consideration of the circumstances relevant to a particular case.  In developing optional screening criteria for a property, and applying the criteria to specific cases, owners may consider all the circumstances relevant to a particular household’s case. Such considerations may not be applied to the required screening criteria described in subparagraph C.2 above. These types of circumstances include:

(1) The seriousness of the offense;

(2) The effect denying tenancy would have on the community or on the failure of the responsible entity to take action;

(3) The degree of participation in the offending activity by the household member;

(4) The effect denying tenancy would have on non-offending household members;

(5) The demand for assisted housing by persons who will adhere to lease responsibilities;

(6) The extent to which the applicant household has taken responsibility and takes all reasonable steps to prevent or mitigate the offending action; and

(7) The effect of the offending action on the program’s integrity.

Once a tenant who is involved with drugs, drinking or addiction is resides on your property, it will be harder to clean them out.  How to clean things up:

1. As part of their eviction standards, owners may consider all of the circumstances relevant to a particular eviction case, such as:

a. The seriousness of the offending action;

b. The effect on the community of terminating or not terminating tenancy;

c. The extent of the tenant’s participation in the offending action;

d. The effect of termination of tenancy on household members not involved in the offending action;

e. The demand for assisted housing by families who will adhere to lease responsibilities;

f. The extent to which the tenant has shown personal responsibility and taken all reasonable steps to prevent or mitigate the offending action; and

g. The effect of the owner’s action on the integrity of the program.

2. In determining whether to terminate tenancy for illegal use of drugs or alcohol abuse by a household member who is no longer engaged in such behavior, an owner may consider and may require evidence of whether the member:

a. Is participating in or has successfully completed a supervised drug or alcohol rehabilitation program; or

b. Has otherwise been rehabilitated successfully.

3. A tenant may be required to exclude a household member in order to continue to reside in the unit when that household member has participated

Owners should be careful to implement consistently all criminal background checks and decision-making procedures. Owners are required to have their procedures included as part of their Tenant Selection Plan (see the 4250.3, R1, C3, Chapter 4, Figure 4-2.)**