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Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Reviewed December 2009

Can I apply for housing if I am younger than 18 years old?

Some housing authorities have a requirement that a person must be either 18 years of age, a custodial parent if under 18, or legally emancipated by a court in order to be eligible for public or subsidized housing. In some states, minors under 18 cannot be held to the terms of their leases.55 This is the reason housing authorities often give for this requirement.

Some applicants to state and federal public or subsidized housing have challenged these practices, alleging violations of anti-discrimination and other laws.56 A few of these challenges have been successful and others have not. Even if it is lawful for a housing authority to deny housing to a minor, it may be unlawful if this policy was not put in writing by the housing authority before they denied you admission.57 If you want to challenge a denial based on age, it may mean you need to ask the housing authority for its tenant selection plan or Admissions and Continued Occupancy Plan. If the plan does not require, in writing, that an applicant be at least 18, you have a good case to challenge the denial. If you appeal the decision, you should try to produce as much evidence as possible that you will be able to live up to your obligations under your lease, such as paying rent, keeping the apartment in a safe and sanitary condition, and not disturbing your neighbors.

If I have a criminal record or history of substance abuse, am I eligible for public or subsidized housing?

Yes. However, being eligible to be placed on a waiting list is different from being "suitable" to live in the housing. Once a housing agency determines you are eligible, in most cases it will eventually look at your housing, criminal and credit history to determine how you would likely be as a tenant. You could be denied housing because of a criminal record or history of substance abuse, but the exact reasons for denial depend on the type of housing you are applying for and the nature of the misconduct. There are different rules for different programs. For more information about how to prepare your application and protect yourself during the screening process, see Tenant Screening and The Appeal Process.

If I am a victim of domestic violence, are there any special protections when I apply for housing?

Yes. A federal law provides important protection for victims of domestic violence who are applying for certain federally assisted housing.58 The law provides that being a victim of domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking cannot be a reason for being denied federal public housing, a Section 8 voucher, or privately owned project-based Section 8 housing for multifamily housing.59 See Housing Programs in Massachusetts for a description of these programs.

For example, if a housing authority denies you housing because a prior landlord said that your boyfriend broke windows and destroyed property, the law says that you cannot be denied housing because of behavior that is considered domestic violence. If you feel that you have been denied housing because of domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking, you should challenge this denial. See Challenging a Denial of housing.

Domestic violence includes, but is not limited to, a misdemeanor or felony committed by: 60

  1. A current or former spouse of the victim;
  2. A person with whom the victim shares a child in common;
  3. A person who is living with or has lived with the victim as a spouse; or
  4. Any person when the action is against an adult or a young person who is protected under state law. Under the law in Massachusetts, abuse is: causing or attempting to cause physical harm, placing someone in fear of imminent serious physical harm, or forcing someone to engage in sexual relations against their will.61

Dating violence is violence committed by a person who is or was in a relationship of a romantic or intimate nature with the victim.62

Stalking is to follow, pursue, or repeatedly engage in behavior that seeks to intimidate or harm another person or to place a person under surveillance.63 As a result of such behavior, the person, a member of that person's family, or that person's spouse or partner has a reasonable fear of being harmed or has experienced substantial emotional harm.64


Any information provided to a service provider, an owner, or housing agency that an individual is a victim of domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking, must be kept confidential.65


55Although it varies from state to state, in general, minors' contracts are voidable except to the extent that the contract is for reasonable value of a necessity. See 33 Mass. Prac., Landlord and Tenant Law, § 6:2 (3d Ed.).

56Public housing applicants have challenged policies relating to leasing to minors, claiming that such policies violate the Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection and Due Process clauses of the U.S. Constitution, HUD and PHA rules, the Fair Housing Act, and state anti-discrimination statutes. For the most part, these cases have had very limited success. Graham v. Hous. Auth. of Newport, R.I., No. 90-0157P (D.R.I. May 8, 1991) (PHA consents to notify applicants that their age will not bar admission Hughes v. Hous. Auth. of Dallas, No. CA 3-90-0188-D (N.D. Tex., Jan. 29, 1990) (applicants challenge PHA's policy of requiring court-ordered emancipation for minor with children Doe v. Worcester Hous. Auth., No. 83-0468-F (D. Mass., filed Oct. 3, 1983) (settlement allowing minor access to housing). See in contrast Manning v. San Francisco Hous. Auth., No. C-74-0266-GBH (N.D. Cal., filed Feb. 4, 1974) (excluding minors may be valid if minors can void lease under state law Rodriguez v. Reading Hous. Auth., 8 F.3d 961 (3d Cir. 1993) (policy of renting to minors unless emancipated sustained).

57See, e.g., Marshall v. Hous. Auth. of Taylor, 866 F. Supp. 999 (W.D. Tex. 1994), aff'd, 51 F.3d 1045 (5th Cir. 1994).

58Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act of 2005 (Public Law 109-162). It has a section on housing; see Title VI of VAWA 2005, which includes protections against eviction and termination of assistance.

5942 U.S.C. § 1437f(o)(6)(B) (Section 8 vouchers 42 U.S.C. § 1437d(c)(3) (public housing and 42 U.S.C. § 1437f(c)(9)(A) (project-based Section 8). For application to federal multifamily housing, see HUD Housing Notice 2009-15 (October 1, 2009).

60For the definition of domestic violence, see 42 U.S.C. § 13925(a)(6), cross-referenced in 42 U.S.C. §§ 1437d(u)(3)(A) and 1437f(f)(8). This definition also includes a person who is "similarly situated to a spouse of the victim under the domestic or family violence laws of the jurisdiction receiving grant monies."

61G.L. c. 209A, § 1, definition of "abuse." This definition also extends to people related by blood, marriage, children in common, a significant dating relationship, or cohabitation.

62Existence of a dating relationship shall be determined based on a consideration of the following factors: (i) the length of the relationship; (ii) the type of relationship; (iii) the frequency of interaction between the persons involved in the relationship." See 42 U.S.C. §§ 13925(a)(7) and (8), cross-referenced in 42 U.S.C. §§ 1437d(u)(3)(B) and 1437f(f)(9). In Massachusetts, courts look at similar factors to determine whether a dating relationship exists. G.L. c. 209A, § 1.

63See 42 U.S.C. §§ 1437d(u)(3)(C) and 1437f(f)(10).

64 The statute defines "immediate family member" for the purpose of the stalking definition as "a spouse, parent, brother or sister, or child of that person, or an individual to whom that person stands in loco parentis, or any other person living in the household of that person and related to that person by blood and marriage." See 42 U.S.C. §§ 1437d(u)(3)(D) and 1437f(f)(11).

65 Any information provided to an owner or housing agency that an individual is a victim of domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking, must be retained in confidence by the owner or agency, and shall not be entered into any shared database or provided to any other entity, except to the extent that the disclosure is requested or consented to in writing by the individual or is otherwise required by law. 42 U.S.C. §§ 1437d(u)(2) and 1437f(ee)(2).

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