Housing Options

As you transition from foster care

What types of housing are available for me once I leave foster care?

» Your transitional living plan should include a plan for housing. Your social worker or Independent Living coordinator will help you with finding rental housing, negotiating with landlords, and understanding your lease.


▪   You will sign a lease agreement (contract) for a certain period of time. While most leases last for 12 months, there are leases that last for less time (most often one month or six months).

▪  If you rent on a month-to-month basis, your lease may automatically renew for an additional thirty days at the end of the month, unless you or the landlord give notice that you want to end the lease.  Usually thirty days’ notice is required to end the lease.

▪  You should get a written lease, signed by you and the landlord.  Have someone knowledgeable read the lease before you sign it.  Make sure you read the entire lease before you sign it. If you have any questions about the lease terms be sure to ask someone to explain them to you.  Find out more about renting here: http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/topics/rental_assistance

Do not sign any lease unless you understand and agree with everything it says! If you have questions about your lease, contact a lawyer at your local legal aid office: www.valegalaid.org.

What must I have to be able to rent an apartment?

Most landlords have you fill out a rental application before they agree to rent to you.  You will need to list your employer, how much money you make, and some references (i.e. people who know you and can state you will be a good tenant).

▪  The landlord may also ask to run a credit check on you. If you do not have enough income or have bad credit, the landlord may not rent to you unless someone co-signs the lease.  A co-signer, or guarantor, is responsible for paying the rent if you don’t.

How much can I be charged before I move in?

A landlord can charge you the following: an application fee, the first month’s rent, and a security deposit.  The security deposit is normally equal to one or two months’ rent, and cannot be more than two months’ rent.  The landlord cannot charge you the security deposit and rent until your application has been approved and you have signed the lease. You will also have to pay to connect the utilities before moving in, except any included in the rent.

What about utilities?

Utilities are services such as electricity, gas, water, sewer, and trash pickup. Different localities may have different utilities. In rural areas, electricity may be the only utility. In some cities, you may pay the city in one bill for all utilities except electricity; in others, you may need to contract with different entities for different utilities, each with its own bill. Most utilities require a deposit. If you get behind on payments, call the company (or city) to arrange a payment plan, so they won’t cut off your service.

What if there’s something wrong with the apartment?

The landlord is responsible for making repairs to the building, for anything that goes wrong through normal wear and tear. If the roof leaks, or the heat stops working, let the landlord know promptly. You are responsible for repairing or replacing anything you break. If there are pests, you are probably responsible, unless they came in from someone else’s space, or a common area; these are the landlord’s responsibility.

If I rent an apartment, can my landlord make me leave?

A landlord can terminate your lease and make you leave if you don’t pay your rent or don’t follow the rules.  The landlord’s rules will be listed in the written lease or on a separate document along with your copy of the lease.  Make sure you get both a copy of the signed lease and a copy of the rules before you move in.

Even if a landlord terminates a lease, you can’t be forced to move out until a court orders you to. The landlord must take you to court before changing your locks or cutting off your utilities.  Before the landlord can take you to court, a written notice must be sent to you, explaining why your lease is being terminated (i.e. what rule you supposedly have broken) or demanding you pay the rent  due within 5 days (called a “5 Day Pay or Quit” notice).

▪   If you don’t move out by the time the landlord says you must (5 days after the pay or quit notice or 30 days after the notice saying you broke the rules), you will get a notice to go to court (called a “Summons for Unlawful Detainer”).

▪   Always go to court, even if you haven’t paid the rent or broke a rule. Even if you don’t have a defense, you will have approximately 13 days after court before you will be evicted.  If you do not go to court, you can be evicted three days after the court date.  If you DO have a good defense to the eviction action, such as written proof you paid your rent, the judge should not let your landlord evict you.

If I pay my rent before court, can my landlord still evict me?

If you pay everything the landlord is suing you for before the court date, the landlord cannot evict you (unless it is the second time you’ve been to court for not paying your rent in the past year).  You must pay the total amount listed on your summons.  This will include the unpaid rent and any late fees or attorney’s fees the landlord is allowed to charge.

▪   If you don’t have the money you owe by the first court date, but have something in writing showing that a non-profit (like a church or community group) or a government program has agreed to pay your rent, the judge will give you ten extra days to get the money.

» Any time you receive a notice saying your lease is being terminated, or you receive a summons to go to court, talk to a lawyer. Ask a question through Virginia.FreeLegalAnswers.org, or find a free lawyer through your local legal aid office by going to www.valegalaid.org.

What if I don’t make enough money to pay for rent?

There are programs that provide assistance to people who can’t afford to pay rent. One is the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program, which provides tenants with vouchers to pay all or part of the rent.  If the vouchers don’t cover the total rent amount, the tenants must pay the difference.  If you qualify for a voucher and have income, you should not have to pay more than 30% of your income toward your rent.

▪   Some Public Housing Authorities have special vouchers for former foster youth, called “Family Unification Program” (FUP) vouchers.  To qualify for a FUP voucher you must: 1. be 18 to 21 years old; 2. have left foster care at age 16 or older; and 3. have nowhere to live.  FUP vouchers are good for up to 18 months.

To find out more about the Housing Choice Voucher Program and other programs for tenants, go to your local Housing Authority office.  You can find a local Public Housing authority here: http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/program_offices/public_indian_housing/pha/contacts/va.

What if I want to buy a house?

At some point, you may want to buy your own home.  It may take years to save money for a downpayment.  For information about buying a home, see http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/topics/buying_a_home