This information applies to you only if you live in HUD-subsidized public housing. Examples in Maine are:
- Cape Hart in Bangor
- Kennedy Park in Portland
- Hillview in Lewiston
If you get another type of rent subsidy, such as USDA Rural Development (formerly FmHA), these rules will not apply.
If you have a "section 8 voucher," Section 8 Made Simple from the Technical Assistance Collaborative is a good resource. (This is written for people with disabilities but it is good, easy-to-read information.) If you get another kind of HUD subsidy, some of these rules may apply. Call Pine Tree Legal if you have questions.
Maine's general landlord/tenant laws apply to you, as well. For more information, see our Rights of Maine Renters series of articles. You should also read your lease. It answers many of the questions you may have about your rights. The Housing Authority (PHA) probably has other rules that are not in your lease. Be sure you have a copy of those rules and know what they say. If you think your rights have been violated or you need more help, call Pine Tree Legal Assistance.
How do I apply for public housing?
Public Housing is housing that is managed by local housing authorities. Your rent is based on your income. You do not get to keep your low rent if you leave. You have to apply to get into public housing. Waitlist are often long. If the waiting list is closed, you may have to wait to apply. If you have a disability that would make applying hard, the public housing provider work with you to make it easier. If you do not get in to the housing, you have the right to a hearing.
To get a list of housing authorities and other agencies that oversee subsidized housing in your area, call the Maine State Housing Authority: 1-800-452-4668, TTY 1-800-452-4603. You can also view listings of subsidized housing at the Maine State Housing Authority website. Then contact the local agencies where you want to live.
How long will I have to wait?
It depends. Some housing authorities have very long waiting lists. If you can be flexible about where you live, it's a good idea to apply to several places. This will give you a better chance to get housing sooner. If you move while you're waiting, be sure you let the housing authority know your new address and phone number.
Sometimes you can get into public housing quicker if you fall into certain categories. Sometimes the housing authority gives special priority to homeless people, people with disabilities, or veterans. The housing authorities choose to have these rules. It is not required.
What can I do if my application is denied?
The Housing Authority (PHA) must have a written policy about how it handles applications. If you ask for a copy, they must give you one. The policy will probably include criteria such as:
- Do you owe anyone rent?
- Were you a good tenant in the past?
- Do you have a history of dangerous criminal activity?
You have the right to an "informal hearing," if you don’t get into to public housing. They must give you a written notice explaining why you were denied. The housing authority must share any documents that show why you didn’t get in.
At the hearing you give your side of the story. Explain why you think the information the housing authority got was not true, or not reliable. Explain why you think the PHA decision was unfair or illegal. If the information about your past is true but you have made changes, correcting past problems, explain the changes.
- You were evicted from an apartment a year ago because your boyfriend drank too much. He beat you up frequently, and caused a lot of damage. Since then, you broke up with him and he has left the state. You have had no incidences of a bad rental history since that time. Explain that you didn't cause the problems before and that the person who did is gone. Explain that you were the victim of domestic violence. Bring a favorable recommendation from your current landlord, if you can.
- You have been denied because you owe $500 to another housing authority (or former section 8 landlord) for unpaid rent and damages. You can't afford to pay this debt. The PHA won't admit you until this debt is paid. If you don't owe this debt, explain why and bring any evidence. If you owe the debt but can't pay it, some PHA's will accept a payment arrangement. Before agreeing to this, be sure you can afford to pay both your rent and the monthly debt payment. If the claimed debt is more than six years old, contact Pine Tree Legal. You may not have to pay the debt.
- You were evicted for non-payment of rent four years ago when you were broke because of a serious drug habit. You went to a rehab unit 6 months later and successfully completed a rehab program 2 years ago. You have not used drugs at all since then. Ask your counselor to come to the hearing to explain your successful rehabilitation. If that's not possible, ask them to send a written report.
There a few times when the housing authority is not allowed to admit you:
• If you were evicted from other types of housing programs (like Public Housing, Section 8, or Rural Development) within the past 3 years for a drug conviction.
• You are a lifetime registered Sex Offender.
How much rent will I have to pay?
Your rent will be a 30% of your income or a "flat rental" amount. You can chose which you want. Paying a portion of your income is usually less than the flat rent.
Before they figure out 30% of your income, the subtract some of your expenses. Examples of expenses they might subtract are:
- Child Deduction
- Childcare Deduction
- Medical expenses for elderly people and people with disabilities
- Utility expenses
The “flat rate” option is based on the local fair market rent
Calculating your rent can be complicated. Ask questions. If you still don't understand and have difficulty meeting your rent plus utilities, contact Pine Tree Legal.
Don't I get some kind of break on my rent if I get a job while I'm living in public housing?
Maybe. If the new income is for a household member who is 18 years-old or older and:
- was unemployed for at least 12 months before getting the new income
- received TANF or TANF related benefits in the past 6 months
- made less than $4,500 in the past 12 months
- is participating in a job-training program or self-sufficiency program (like ASPIRE, an English-as-second-language course, substance abuse rehab, or sheltered workshop) or
- is disabled and went to work or started earning more money
What if my income goes up or down during the lease period?
You should report all changes in income to the housing authority as soon as possible. Check with your housing authority about how many days they give you to report changes. This should be stated in your lease. If not, ask for a copy of the written policy. Be sure you understand this policy. You could be evicted for not reporting an increase in income.
There are also rules about when your rent has to be recalculated. This should be in your lease or a different written policy. If you do not know, ask the housing authority.
If you have opted to pay a "flat rent" and you run into a "financial hardship," the PHA should let you switch to a lower percentage-of-income rental amount. A "financial hardship" could be something like a lay off or a medical crisis.
Can the Housing Authority inspect my apartment without warning me first?
No, except in an emergency. Otherwise, the PHA should give you notice that they need to come in. Maine law requires that you get 24 hours notice. A good reason for inspecting can be:
- To do routine inspection or maintenance
- To do repairs or improvements
- To show the unit to someone who may be renting after you
The inspection must be done at a reasonable hour, not late at night or early in the morning. If the PHA comes into your house when no one is home, they must leave you a written notice, including the date, time, and reason for their visit.
May I have a pet while I'm living in public housing?
Yes. However, the Housing Authority (PHA) may put "reasonable requirements" on having a pet. For example, the PHA may:
- Require a small non-refundable fee, a larger refundable deposit (but cannot charge a fee for a service animal), or both
- Limit the number of animals in a unit, based on size
- Ban individual animals, based on factors such as size or weight
- Require pet registration
- Require that pets be spayed or neutered
Service animals or emotional support animals are not pets. Rules should allow service animals or emotional support animals. The only way the housing authority can say no to a service animal or emotional support animal is if the specific animal is causing a serious problem.
DHHS took my kids. Now the housing authority is threatening to evict me or move me to a smaller unit. What can I do?
Any children who are "temporarily absent" because they are in foster care must be counted as part of your family. So, the PHA cannot force you to move to a smaller unit.
In some cases, your child may have to stay in foster care after the "C-2 court hearing." This is still a temporary placement that the court must review every 6 months. During this time, DHHS must try to help you with a reunification plan. You may have to give the PHA written statements from the court or DHHS about the status of your case. Contact Pine Tree Legal if the PHA is threatening to move you.
What can I do if I disagree with something the Housing Authority (PHA) does, like adding on extra charges, or refusing to replace a broken window?
If you can't resolve the problem, you have the right to go through a two-step grievance process. Your housing authority will have rules about how this works. You should ask for a copy of the rules. There is probably a time limit on when you can request a grievance. You should ask for the grievance in writing and keep a copy. In the request, explain why you want the grievance and why you think the housing authority is wrong. You should also say what you want the housing authority to do.
What will happen if I try to fight an eviction?
The housing authority can evict you if you violate your lease, including missing rent payments. You have the right to ask for a grievance when you get your eviction notice. If you can resolve the issue, they will file an eviction in court. You cannot be forced to move unless they bring you to court. You have the right to a court hearing and cannot be evicted until a court rules that it is legal.
If you get a notice saying that you are being evicted, call Pine Tree Legal right away!
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