How to Write a Tenant Selection Plan
One of the toughest jobs of a site owner or manager is writing a good tenant selection plan. The tenant selection plan is a crucial document, says Dan Bancroft, an attorney who has written tenant selection plans for project-based sites. It gives you a way to explain and justify your decisions if you are challenged. It is your first defense against claims of illegal discrimination, and it helps your staff, applicants, residents, and program administrators know what to expect from you. Without a clear, thorough written plan, you are open to charges of acting arbitrarily or unfairly.
What Your Plan Should Do
Your plan needs to:
Establish a site-wide policy of nondiscrimination. For model language, see Put Statement of Nondiscrimination in Tenant Selection Plan;
Set basic eligibility and tenant selection policies and procedures for staff to follow, including income limits for admission;
Be consistent with all applicable federal, state, and local laws and regulations;
State that you are committed to applying your policies fairly and uniformly; and
Be usable as a point of reference in your communications with applicants, especially rejection letters.
In short, a tenant selection plan should state clearly who is eligible to live at your site and who is not. These decisions cannot be left to the discretion of your staff.
According to Bancroft, Chapter 4 of Handbook 4350.3 should be your basic guide to what to include in your tenant selection plan. However, within these requirements, you should customize the document to fit your site. Each subsidy or insurance program comes with its own occupancy restrictions. You need to address all of them in one document.
For one example of how to organize your tenant selection plan, see our Sample Outline of a Tenant Selection Plan, based on one developed by Bancroft. See also Handbook 4350.3, Figure 4-2.
A tenant selection plan is about more than just meeting HUD regulatory requirements. It is a basic site management document. According to Bancroft and other experts, there are some difficult decisions for you to make before you write your plan. You need to decide:
What your waiting list policy and procedures should be;
Where to get and how to use criminal background information;
How to meet demands of multiple subsidy sources;
How often to update your site's policy;
How to respond to reasonable accommodation requests;
Whether to include standard forms and letters as part of the document; and
What training your staff will need to understand and implement the policy.
Getting input from your HUD Field Office and contract administrator is a good idea. (HUD does not have to approve your plan unless you are trying to adopt state, local, or residency preferences.) Getting your attorney's advice is also a good way to avoid headaches down the road.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The content of your tenant selection plan is subject to review during a Management and Occupancy Review.
Checklist of Items to Include in Plan
Consult this list of required and recommended items when putting together your tenant selection plan:
Screening criteria. To avoid fair housing litigation, it is important that you not use informal, inconsistent, selective, or private screening standards. Any screening you do must be committed to paper and made publicly available in your plan. All screening criteria you use must relate to the ability of the applicant to pay rent or meet other requirements of the lease.
Your tenant selection plan must contain screening criteria that include standards for prohibiting the admission of persons who have engaged in drug-related or criminal activity. According to HUD, you must prohibit admission of any household containing a member who was evicted in the last three years from federally assisted housing for drug-related criminal activity.
Student eligibility criteria. With Change 3, HUD has now made eligibility of students a required item to include in tenant selection plans.
Citizenship/immigration status requirements. Include your policies on verifying citizenship status.
Income-targeting methodology, if applicable. Section 8 projects must rent at least 40 percent of assisted units that become available in any fiscal year to extremely low-income families. You must put your income-targeting methodology in your tenant selection plan. As Change 3 makes clear, income targeting does not apply to the Section 202 PAC, Section 202 PRAC, Section 811 PRAC, RAP, Rent Supplement, Section 221(d)(3) BMIR, or Section 236 programs.
Rejection notice language. All applicant rejection notices must now include the statement that persons with disabilities have the right to request reasonable accommodations to participate in the informal hearing process.
Security deposit requirements and standard charges for facilities and services. HUD recommends you include these items, but you are not required to do so. (Note, however, that you may not charge an application fee or processing fee as a condition of admission.)
Criteria for accepting vouchers. You may wish to include specific guidance on accepting applicants with Housing Choice Vouchers.
Compliance with VAWA. HUD has advised owners and managers to update tenant selection plans and house rules to reflect the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). A recent HUD Notice outlining the requirements of VAWA can be found at: http://www.hud.gov/offices/adm/hudclips/notices/hsg/files/08-07HSGN.doc.
Dan Bancroft, Esq.: Partner, Broderick, Bancroft & Goldberg, 313 Washington St., Ste. 207, Newton, MA 02458; (617) 641-9900; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sample Outline of a Tenant Selection Plan
A. Right to Apply
B. Statement of Nondiscrimination
II. Reasonable Accommodation
III. Selection Criteria
A. Bases of Eligibility
B. Eligibility of Students
C. Applicant Screening Procedures
D. Prohibited Applicant Screening Criteria
IV. Application to Housing
A. Application Taking
B. Application Processing
C. Notification Procedure
D. Rejection of an Application
E. Action after Formal Verification
F. Maintenance of Records
V. Claiming a Priority
VI. Selection Process
[Separate sections may be needed for separate subsidy programs]
VII. Management of Waiting Lists
A. Opening the Waiting List(s)
B. Closing the Waiting List(s)
C. Updating the Waiting List(s)
VIII. Occupancy Standards and Unit Assignment
IX. Unit Transfer Procedure for Existing Residents
X. Attachments and Exhibits
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