Housing Options

once you leave foster care

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

Like most young people starting out on their own, you will probably be looking for a place you can rent. There are requirements you will have to meet in order to be able to rent an

apartment or a house, which will be discussed in the next answer. If you rent, you will sign a lease 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 something on a monthly basis, your lease may automatically renew for an additional thirty days at the end of the month, unless you or the landlord have given notice to the other that you want the lease to end. Most monthly leases require thirty days’ notice to end the lease. Any time you are renting a house or apartment, you should get a written lease that is signed by you and the landlord. It is a good idea to have someone else who has rented homes in the past read
over the lease before you sign it. Make sure you read the entire lease before you sign it, and if you have any questions about the lease terms be sure to ask someone to explain them
to you. Do not sign any lease unless you understand and agree with everything it says! If you have questions about your lease, you can contact a lawyer at your local legal aid office.
You can find the telephone number of your local legal aid office and additional information about landlord and tenant laws at www.valegalaid.org.

If I rent an apartment, how easy is it for my landlord to 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 either be listed in the written lease or on a

separate piece of paper you will get when you get 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 the landlord terminates your lease, he can’t force you to move out until a court orders you to move out. This means the landlord cannot make you move by changing your locks or cutting off your utilities; he has to take you to court. Before the landlord can take you to court, he has to send you a written notice explaining why he is terminating your lease (i.e. what rule he thinks you have broken) or demanding that you pay the rent that is 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”). You should always go to court, even if you haven’t paid the rent or did in fact break a rule. Even if you don’t have a defense to the eviction action, if you go to court, 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 that you paid your rent, the judge should not let your landlord evict you. Any time you receive a notice saying that your lease is being terminated, you should talk to a lawyer. You can find a free lawyer through your local legal aid office by going to www.valegalaid.org.

At some point, you will probably want to buy a house or a condominium. It is a good idea to learn about what you need to do to buy a house and start preparing to buy a house years before you actually are ready to buy one. For information about buying a home, see “100 Questions and Answers About Buying a New Home” at http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/program_offices/housing/sfh/buying/buyhm.

If I get a summons to go to court for not paying my rent, can my landlord still evict me if I pay my rent before the court date?

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 court paper (called a “Summons for Unlawful Detainer”). This amount will include the unpaid rent and any late fees or attorney’s fees the landlord is allowed to charge you. If you don’t have the money you owe by the first court date, but you 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 from your landlord that he or she is terminating your lease, and any time you get a summons to go to court, you should talk to a lawyer. If you can’t afford to pay a lawyer, contact your local legal aid office. You can find a free lawyer through your local legal aid office by going to www.valegalaid.org.

What do I need to have to be able to rent an apartment?

Most landlords have you fill out a rental application before they agree to rent to you. This application will ask you to list your employer, how much money you make, and a number of references (i.e. people who know you and can state that you will be a good tenant). The landlord may also ask you to allow him or her to run a credit check and sometimes a criminal records check on you. If you do not have enough income or you have bad credit, the landlord may refuse to rent to you unless you can get someone to co-sign the lease for you. When a co-signer signs the lease, he or she becomes responsible for paying the rent if you don’t pay it.

How much can I be charged before I move into an apartment or house I am renting?

A landlord can charge you the following before you move in: an application fee, the first month’s rent and a security deposit. The security deposit is normally equal to either one or two months’ rent. The security deposit cannot be more than two months’ rent. Of course, the landlord should not charge you the security deposit and rent until he has approved your application and given you the lease to review and sign.

In addition to the money you pay the landlord before you move in, you will also have to pay to connect all the utilities before moving into the apartment or house, except for those
utilities that are included in the rent payment. Most of the time, the rent payment does not cover any of the utilities, and you have to pay for the utilities in separate payments for each utility.

What if I don’t have enough income to qualify to rent an apartment?

There are some programs that provide assistance to people who can’t afford to rent or buy a home on their own. These programs are normally run through local agencies called Public Housing Authorities. One of these programs (called the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program) provides tenants with vouchers that they can use to pay part of their rent. The tenants take these vouchers to local landlords and the landlords use the vouchers to pay part or all of the tenants’ rent. If the vouchers don’t cover the total rent amount, the tenants have to 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. A few Public Housing Authorities in Virginia have special vouchers for use by former foster youth. These are 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 by going to www.phada.org and scrolling down to Virginia. At some point, you will probably want to buy a house or a condominium. It is a good idea to learn about what you need to do to buy a house and start preparing to buy a house years before you actually are ready to buy one. For information about buying a home, see “100 Questions and Answers About Buying a New Home” at http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/program_offices/housing/sfh/buying/buyhm.