FINDING AN APARTMENT
Once I have My Voucher, How Do I Find an Apartment?
Once you have your voucher, take as much time as you can to make sure you find a unit that is appropriate for your family in terms of size and location. Make sure not to waste time looking at apartments that are too expensive for you. Make sure to have the Cambridge Payment Standards with you when you go out looking for an apartment so that you remember how much you have to spend.
How Much Can the Apartment I Rent Cost?
At the briefing you learn how much rent you have to spend each month on your new apartment. The amounts are different depending on how many bedrooms you need. The most a family should spend on an apartment is referred to as the Payment Standard. You should remember not to look for apartments that cost more per month than the Payment Standard. If the apartment you find costs more than the Payment Standard you will have to pay the extra amount.
Can I Look for Apartments Outside of Cambridge?
Once you have your voucher, you can look for an apartment in any City in the US and Puerto Rico. Please keep in mind however that payment Standards are different in each city. If you look for an apartment in another town, you should contact the local Housing Authority to find out their Payment Standards, so you know how much you can spend on an apartment.
How Does CHA Figure Out My Share of the Rent?
Usually you pay thirty percent (30%) of your family's monthly income towards your rent. You pay your share to the owner on the first of the month just like you would if you didn't have a voucher. The rest of the rent will be sent to the owner by the CHA.
The CHA adds the gross income of every non-student adult in your household and multiplies that number by .30 in order to determine your share of the rent.
Gross income x .30= 30% of family's monthly income
The CHA considers some deductions when determining your family's gross income. Deductions are available for children, some medical expenses, full time adult education, and in some instances childcare, too.
If you move into an apartment that costs more than the payment standard you pay 30% of your family's monthly income plus the difference in rent between the FMR and the rent for your apartment. For example, if the FMR for a one-bedroom apartment was $1000.00 per month and you found a one-bedroom apartment for $1100.00 per month, your rent would be 30% of your monthly income plus $100.00.
Can a Landlord Deny Me Housing Because I Have a Voucher?
An owner cannot deny you housing because you have a voucher. If you meet the same requirements as someone without a voucher the owner has to rent the apartment to you. In most cases, it is against the law for an owner, property manager or real estate broker to tell you that they do not accept vouchers.
Please contact the Cambridge Human Rights Commission at 617-349-4396 for more information on the fair housing laws in the Commonwealth and the City of Cambridge, or if you think that you have been denied housing based on your sex, race, disability, family status, origin or income source—including a housing subsidy.
Can I Use a Real Estate Broker to Help Me Find an Apartment?
If you choose to employ a realtor or broker to help you find a home, you will usually be asked to pay the realtor a finder's fee. Realtors must tell you up front how much the fee will be before they take you to look at apartments. Make sure to carefully read any realtor's agreement before you sign. Some realtor's will keep their fee even if the owner denies your application for an apartment. The CHA cannot help pay broker's fees, but the Cambridge Housing Assistance Fund (CHAF) may be able to help you pay the realtor's fee. You can find out more about the CHAF fund at their websiteor by calling 617-354-5678.
LEASING UP & MOVING IN
What Paperwork Do I Need to Fill Out Once I Find an Apartment?
Once you've found an apartment that is a good match for you in terms of size, location and cost, come to our office at 675 Massachusetts Ave. and ask for a Request for Tenancy Approval (RFTA). The RFTA contains the information that we'll need to begin the process of getting you moved in to your new apartment. You can bring this document to the owner, or you can download an electronic version here. You and the owner fill the form out together, making sure to complete the entire packet.
You or the owner can mail the completed RFTA packet to the CHA at 675 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA 02139 or you can bring them directly to our office yourself. You or the owner can even fax the RFTA to our office at 617-520-6420.
What About the Lead Paint Laws?
If a pregnant woman or child under the age of six (6) is moving into the apartment, the owner needs to provide the CHA with certification that the unit is in compliance with the Lead Paint Law. You can obtain information about Lead Laws by visiting the City of Cambridge Community Development's website.
If a Lead Paint Compliance Letter is required, the owner must provide the CHA with a copy of the Deleading Certification before you can move into the apartment. It is illegal for an owner to deny you tenancy because someone in your family is pregnant or under six years old. Federal law requires that owners de-lead apartments that contain lead if a family meets the owner's requirements for tenancy. If you feel that you've been denied tenancy because of lead, contact theCambridge Human Rights Commission at 617-349-4396.
Do I Have to Pay a Security Deposit?
As in non-subsidized apartments it is up to you and the owner to agree on the amount of the security deposit (as long as the security deposit is not more than one month's rent). The CHA does not provide security deposits on your behalf, but the CHAF fund may be able to help with security deposits and moving expenses. Visit the CHAF website or call 617-844-2756 for more information about getting help with security deposits.
Do I Have to Pay the First and Last Month's Rents in Advance?
Owners often ask you to pay the first and last months' rent in advance. This is legal and common, but might make it too expensive for you to move-in to your new home. The CHA can't help pay first and last, but you can tell the owner that the CHA's portion of the rent will be paid each month as long as you live in the apartment and have a voucher. Knowing this, many owners are happy collecting just your share of the first and last month's rent instead of the entire amount. Feel free to recommend that owners talk to CHA staff for an explanation of how this works.
How is the City's Inspectional Service Department Involved?
Once the RFTA is submitted, it is the owner's responsibility to have the unit inspected by the City of Cambridge Inspectional Services Department (ISD). ISD inspects the apartment to make sure that it is safe and sanitary. ISD can be reached by phone at 617-349-6100. Visit
their websitefor more information about the Inspectional Services Department.
Typically, voucher holders will not be permitted to move into their new apartment until the city completes its inspection.
Does the CHA Inspect the Apartment Too?
Yes. A CHA inspector will set up a final inspection with the owner once CHA has received the completed RFTA packet. The CHA inspector will make sure that the apartment is in good shape, and is worth the rent the owner is asking for it.
Once you've moved in, CHA will re-inspect the unit from time-to-time to make sure that you and the owner are keeping the unit safe and sanitary.
How is the Final Rent Determined?
The CHA inspector decides if the owner's requested rent is reasonable. Our inspector looks at thousands of apartments in Cambridge every year and uses computer software to compare the apartment you find to similar apartments in the same neighborhood to make sure that the rent the owner is asking is reasonable. If the inspector doesn't think the apartment is worth what the owner is asking, the owner and inspector can try to agree on a rent that everyone can agree on.
Unfortunately if the owner isn't willing to compromise, he or she can decide not to rent the apartment to you and you'll have to start looking again. We always do everything we can to work out an agreement with owners, but sometimes things just don't work out, and families have to restart their housing search.
When Do I Sign the Lease?
You're called into the CHA to sign your lease after the apartment passes inspection. Your share of the rent is determined at this meeting. After you sign the lease it's sent to the owner to sign and return to us for your file. Most of the time CHA makes the lease, but some owners prefer to use their own. We have no problem using the owner's lease as long as our Legal Department approves it before it is signed. Once you and the owner sign the lease you can move into your new home on whatever day you and the owner have agreed on.
How Do I Add or Subtract a Household Member from My Lease?
Your lease will list all of the people living in your apartment at the beginning of your tenancy. You, the CHA, and the owner of your unit must agree in writing to add or subtract people from your household. The owner is not obligated to allow you to add family members, unless someone already on your lease has a baby.
Does My Lease Renew Each Year?
Standard leases renew automatically if neither you nor the owner give written notice not to renew your lease at least thirty days (30) prior to your anniversary date.
When Can My Landlord Raise My Rent?
Owners can request rental increases each year as long as the increase request is sent in writing to you and the CHA at least sixty days prior to your lease's renewal date. Rent increase requests are reviewed by the CHA Inspectors. The inspectors will make sure that the increase request is reasonable. If the inspectors decide that the request is reasonable it is granted and the change is made automatically, effective on the first day of the new contract year. If the inspectors think that the increase is too big, the owner has the opportunity to negotiate an acceptable increase with the CHA. If the owner won't negotiate the size of the increase and the CHA doesn't agree that the increase is reasonable, the owner may decide not to renew your lease, and you will have to find a new home when the lease expires. The CHA always tries to keep you from having to move, but sometimes owners and the CHA cannot agree on an increase.
In addition, owners automatically receive increases determined by HUD each year regardless of whether or not they request an increase as long as the increase will not result in a contract rent that exceeds the FMR. These increases never affect the amount of rent that you pay for rent.
Can I Leave in the Middle of the Year?
Just as the owner can't ask you to leave in the middle of your lease unless you agree to do so in writing, neither can you leave in the middle without you and the owner signing a Mutual Termination Agreement with the owner. Remember that you are still responsible for paying your rent until you move after you sign the agreement. Never move out without getting the owner's written consent and notifying the CHA. If you do you may lose your voucher!