Electrical issue for Landlords accepting Section 8 (HUD)

This issue is starting to rear its ugly head in my area. HUD apparently will only accept electrical outlets in a house that are either the old 2 prong style if they’re ungrounded. If you have 3 prong outlets installed, they have to be grounded or protected by a GFCI.
Here’s my problem:
We always change the outlets and switches in every house we get. As I’ve said before, I’ve had too many of the old outlets/switches fall apart in my hand as I unscrewed them from the box. New outlets/switches/covers only cost pennies so it’s silly not to replace them. I don’t even think I can get two prong outlets from Lowe’s here. I always install 3 prong outlets. Seems the only reasonably easy fix for this on older houses is to install a GFI circuit breaker rather than trying to wire in a ground to the outlets.
I found out one breaker for a house I need to correct this on is $160. That’s just the price for one. It’s a 40 amp breaker. Some of the smaller breakers are still about $25-30 each and a house may take several of those. Our worst case will be a house we have that has a Federal Pacific breaker box. All of these breakers are extremely expensive (just a normal breaker for a stove cost $90) so we will have to put in a whole new box in that house with GFI breakers where required.

The bottom line is this is going to cost us at least a few thousand dollars to bring all these boxes up to spec. It’s frustrating and offensive to us as responsible property managers that we have to spend all this extra money even though the houses are already protected with circuit breakers.

I just heard about this a couple weeks ago. I found the document on HUD’s website that talks about the outlets. If you have a unit coming up soon for inspection, you may have to do this too.

Here’s the document from HUD’s website. I would’ve posted the link, but it just downloads this Word document. Look specifically from paragraph 6.B. on.

                            U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
							Public and Indian Housing

Special Attention of: Notice PIH 2010-10 (HA)
Office Directors of Public Housing;
Regional Directors; Public Housing Issued: March 31, 2010
Expires: March 31, 2011

							Cross References:

SUBJECT: HQS Inspections for the Housing Choice Voucher Program and Guidance Related to Electrical Outlets

  1. Purpose:

This Notice reviews the existing Housing Quality Standards (HQS) requirements and existing guidance that Public Housing Agencies (PHAs) may rely upon when conducting inspections. It also offers additional guidance on what types of three-prong electrical outlets an inspector should consider acceptable under HQS.

  1. Applicability:

This Notice applies to HUD programs that use the HQS requirements, including the following HUD-PIH rental assistance programs: Project-Based Voucher, Project-Based Certificate, and Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) Programs.

  1. Introduction:

The goal of HUD’s Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) Program is to provide “decent, safe, and sanitary” housing at an affordable cost to low-income families. To accomplish this, HCV program regulations at 24 CFR 982.401 set forth basic housing quality standards (HQS). All units must meet HQS before a PHA can approve a tenancy, and throughout the term of the lease. PHAs must inspect each assisted unit at least annually to ensure the unit meets HQS. HQS define “standard housing” and establish the minimum criteria for the health and safety of program participants.

Current HQS regulations consist of 13 key aspects of housing quality, and acceptability criteria to meet each performance requirement. HQS includes requirements for all housing types, including single and multi-family dwelling units, as well as specific requirements for special housing types such as manufactured homes, congregate housing, single room occupancy, shared housing, and group residences.

  1. Background:

A May 2008, HUD Office of Inspector General (OIG) report concluded that HUD did not have adequate controls to ensure that HCV program housing was in material compliance with HUD’s HQS. This Notice reviews the existing HQS requirements and identifies the guidance that PHAs may rely upon when conducting inspections until the Department issues updated guidance on HQS.

The Notice is divided into two sections. The first section lists the HUD program requirements that apply to HQS and supplementary guidance that PHAs and inspectors may rely upon when conducting inspections. The second section deals with the issue of electrical receptacles, which is an area of concern for many inspectors conducting HQS inspections.

  1. Housing Quality Standards:

A. General

The HCV program is designed to cover a diverse housing stock of different ages, structure types, geographic location and climate. In light of this approach, HUD issued guidance that PHAs can rely upon for the interpretation of HQS. It is important to note that, based upon the diversity of the housing stock nationwide, many of the criteria rely upon the expertise and knowledge of a PHA’s housing inspectors to determine whether a unit meets HQS. This Notice identifies program requirements related to HQS inspections as well as reference materials that HUD has issued to supplement the regulatory requirements.

B. Program Requirements

HUD’s current HQS regulations for the HCV program are found at 24 CFR 982.401, and consist of the 13 key aspects of housing quality and the accompanying Performance Requirements and Acceptability Criteria. The PHA must comply with the regulations, which are always the controlling requirement if there is a conflict between them and any other guidance.

The Department also issued the following two inspection forms. PHAs must comply with one of these forms when conducting HQS inspections.

(1) Inspection Form HUD-52580; or

(2) Inspection Checklist, Form HUD-52580A

C. Supplemental Materials

The Department issued supplemental materials, which set out daily operating procedures in more detail than is included in the regulations. While the supplemental materials do not have the force of regulation, PHAs may rely on the materials as reflective of HUD’s interpretation of its regulations. The Department issued the following supplemental materials to assist PHA inspectors in determining if a unit will pass the HQS inspection:

(1) Chapter 10 of the Housing Choice Voucher Program Guidebook, 7420.10G, and

(2) Housing Inspection Manual.

Although the Department designed these materials to minimize the amount of ambiguity and subjectivity in the application of the requirements, there will be situations where the professional judgment of the inspector will be necessary to differentiate between a pass or fail condition.

  1. Electrical Receptacles:

A. Background

The HCV program regulations at 24 CFR 982.401(f) set forth the HQS requirements and acceptability criteria with respect to illumination and electricity for the housing unit. The regulations state that a unit must include the following acceptability criteria for electricity.

• the kitchen and bathroom must have one permanent ceiling or wall light fixture in proper operating condition;
• the kitchen must have at least one electrical outlet in proper operating condition; and
• the living room and each bedroom must have at least two electrical outlets in proper operating condition (permanent overhead or wall-mounted light fixtures may count as one of the required electrical outlets).

The inspector is responsible for determining whether the outlets are in “proper operating condition.” While the regulation does not define what the Department considers “proper operating condition,” HUD-Form 52580A cites examples of electrical hazards including:

• broken wiring;
• non-insulated wiring;
• frayed wiring;
• improper types of wiring, connections or insulation;
• wires lying in or located near standing water or other unsafe places;
• light fixture hanging from electric wiring without other firm support or fixture;
• missing cover plates on switches or outlets;
• badly cracked outlets;
• exposed fuse box connections; and
• overloaded circuits evidenced by frequently ‘’blown’’ fuses (which the inspector determines by asking the tenant).

B. Types of Outlets and Their Proper Operating Condition
In response to an OIG audit, HUD is issuing this Notice to clarify the proper operating condition of electrical outlets (110V/120V). There are two basic types of outlets: two-pronged (also called “two-slotted”) and three-pronged outlets. Three-pronged outlets have an additional hole for a ground wire, and are “grounded outlets.” Two-pronged outlets are “ungrounded.”
Generally, original two-pronged, ungrounded outlets and original three-pronged, grounded outlets are acceptable under the HQS. ”Upgraded” outlets, which have been changed from two-pronged to three-pronged, are the major area of concern in this Notice.

Ungrounded Outlets
Older construction (pre-1975) housing will usually have ungrounded two-pronged outlets, which is an acceptable type of outlet under the HQS. (Figure 1) Homes constructed with a two-wire electrical system include only a hot and neutral wire. Two-pronged ungrounded systems and outlets are acceptable under HQS as long as the outlet is in proper operating condition. An owner does not need to upgrade the electrical system of the unit (convert two-pronged outlets to three-pronged) in order for the unit to pass an HQS inspection.
Grounded Outlets
Newer construction housing will usually have three-pronged outlets, which are acceptable under HQS if the outlets are grounded. (Figure 2) Newer units constructed with a three-wire electrical system include a hot, neutral, and ground wire. This Notice outlines traditional methods of testing grounded outlets for proper operating condition below.
“Upgraded” Outlets
Many of the cords for today’s appliances contain three-pronged plugs, which can cause problems when an older home does not have three-pronged outlets for these grounded plugs. In the case of older homes, owners often replace two-pronged, ungrounded outlets with three-pronged, grounded type outlets in order to establish appropriate outlets for appliances that have cords with three-pronged plugs. However, in some cases, owners may replace two-pronged, ungrounded outlets with the three-pronged, grounded type outlets without the necessary rewiring that adds a ground wire to the newly installed, grounded type outlet.
Three-pronged, grounded type outlets should not be substituted for ungrounded outlets unless (1) a ground wire is connected to the outlet, or (2) a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) protects the outlet. (Figure 3) Installing a new ground wire may require a licensed electrician to install a new wire to the circuit breaker box and may be prohibitively expensive. A more cost-effective method is to protect the outlet with a GFCI, which provides protection to the outlet. If the GFCI senses a difference in current flow between the hot and the neutral terminals, it shuts off the flow of current to the outlet.
An older construction house with a grounded outlet (Figure 2) would be an indication that the unit may have undergone some upgrading. In such cases, the Department recommends testing a sample of outlets in the unit to determine if three-pronged outlets are in proper operating condition, in addition to verifying the proper operating condition of the required number of outlets per room.
Testing of Outlets to Determine Proper Operating Condition
Two-pronged, Ungrounded Outlets
The traditional method of testing a two-pronged, ungrounded outlet is to plug an appliance into the outlet and verify that the appliance turns on. This simple method is acceptable for determining that the ungrounded outlet is in proper operating condition and meets HQS.
Three-pronged Outlets
A three-pronged outlet must meet one of the following three standards for the inspector to consider the outlet in “proper operating condition” as required by HQS:

  1. The outlet is properly grounded.
  2. A GFCI protects the three-pronged, ungrounded outlet.
  3. The outlet complies with the applicable state or local building or inspection code.
    The inspector needs to use an outlet tester to determine whether the outlet is properly grounded. There are two types of outlet testers that an inspector can use to determine a properly grounded outlet: a two-wire tester or a three-pronged tester.

Two Wire Tester Three Prong Tester

To test an outlet with a two-wire tester, an inspector inserts one probe into the hot slot (usually, the smaller slot) of the outlet and one probe into the ground hole (bottom hole). If the outlet is properly grounded, the indicator light should light brightly in the same manner that the light shines when the inspector inserts the probes of the tester into the hot and neutral (right and left) slots.
To test an outlet with a three-pronged tester, the inspector should plug the device in and note the pattern of the lights. Usually there will be a legend printed on the device describing what the lights indicate. The instructions provided by the manufacturer of the tester should be followed.
If the inspector determines that the outlet is not properly grounded based on the results of the outlet tester, he/she may need to conduct some additional investigation to determine if a GFCI protects the outlet. A GFCI can be located at the outlet that is being tested or upstream on the circuit of the outlet. If the GFCI is at an outlet, it will look similar to Figure 3 above, and the inspector should accept the outlet as GFCI-protected after testing the functionality of the GFCI as indicated below.
As stated above, an ungrounded outlet may be protected by a GFCI at another outlet that is upstream from the ungrounded outlet. If the inspector suspects that this may be the case, there is an easy way to determine if the GFCI protects an outlet. The inspector should “trip” all of the GFCIs in the unit; both at the outlet and in the circuit breaker box and determine if there is power to the ungrounded outlet. If the power to the outlet is off, then one of the GFCIs protects the outlet.
Occasionally, a GFCI may be located on the circuit breaker at the load center (circuit breaker box). The following image depicts a GFCI breaker: the distinctive indicator is the “Test” button mounted on the breaker. An inspector may want to “trip” the GFCI in order to identify that the power shuts off to any ungrounded outlet that is protected by the breaker. To “trip” the GFCI, the inspector would press the test button (A) and the switch (B) will move and shut off power to the circuit. This allows the inspector to verify that the outlet is GFCI- protected.

GFCI Breaker

C. Testing of Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCIs) To Determine Proper
Operating Condition

If an outlet contains a GFCI, the GFCI must work as designed in order for the inspector to consider the GFCI in proper operating condition. However, a GFCI can be in proper operating condition even if it is not grounded. A GFCI is in proper operating condition if pressing the “TEST” button on the GFCI trips the circuit and shuts off power through the receptacle. It is important to note that some three-prong testers have a GFCI test button function built into the tester. The test button on a three-prong tester only works to trip a grounded GFCI. Therefore, if the GFCI is not grounded, the circuit tester will erroneously indicate that the GFCI is malfunctioning. As a result, inspectors cannot depend solely on-three prong testers to determine if a GFCI is in proper operating condition. Instead, the inspector should press the “TEST” button, and if the button trips the circuit and shuts off the power through the receptacle, the GFCI is in proper operating condition.

  1. For Further Information: Contact Brian Gage, Office of Housing Voucher Management, Room 4210, Department of Housing and Urban Development, 451 7th Street, SW, Washington, DC 20410, at (202) 402-4254.

    					Sandra B. Henriquez, Assistant Secretary 								  for Public and Indian Housing


 This is a real coincidence as I just had a conversation involving this very issue with a friend who just inherited a home and was looking at his options.

Section 8 has always required GFCI at bathroom sinks and kitchen plugs within 5 feet of water for at least the last 20 years or so, but I did not realize they were looking at grounded common plugs as I also always replace the plugs, switches and covers in my rentals but never heard anything about actually requiring a ground or GFCI for those recepticals.

I always thought old wiring was grandfathered to the property!

It’s a good thing I don’t have anything on section 8 right now!


If your basement ceiling is open, another option you might want to look into is running that green single strand 14 gauge conduit ground wire from the box to the nearst cold water pipe. The clamps are like a buck and the conduit wire shouldn’t run that much.

No problem Justin. Just don’t rent to Section 8.

Easier said than done here. I live in a high density welfare area. My applicant pool would drop significantly if we didn’t include Sect 8.

My wife won’t let me lease to Section 8. I tell her that I can make a lot of money doing section 8. To her it is a fundamental moral problem. It is like if I was to rent to an abortion clinic (don’t mean to be political). She can’t deal with the fact that people are being taken care of by the government.

I usually do not like regulations but this one does make sense. By putting a grounded outline on an ungrounded wire you are effectively deceiving the future tenants, even if you do not mean to do so. And more to the point the government has no way of knowing you aren’t deceiving them about the wiring and even if not tenants may ignore, overlook, or forget if you tell them. The ground wire isn’t there for show; it does have a purpose. And there is a reason why most high current electronics require it to be included on their plugs.

As to your particular problem, maybe you can comply by somehow filling in the ground hole on those grounded sockets on the ungrounded wire. Otherwise try searching the internet or ask a local electrician. If that doesn’t work you may be able to check on the internet for a socket supplier that services Japan. The overwhelming standard over there is the old two prong sockets.

Some of the electrical plugs in Japan are different and won’t work in our sockets. Plus the power level is different and you need a converter for a Japanese appliance used here, unless it is manufactured for the US.


My local municipality performs rental inspections and also has the same requirements.

The easiest answer is as you have said, just purchase GFCI breakers. However the least expensive answer is to purchase new two prong outlets. Yes, they are still available. The local home stores here stock them. They cost approx $1 each instead of the $0.30 price for the three prong units.

Also, you were talking about a 40 amp GFCI breaker. Most regular outlets are only rated for a maximum of 20 amps and should not be connected to a 40 amp breaker. Also, if it is an other house chances are most of the wiring is only 14ga and should only have a 15 amp breaker. In my area 15 amp GFCI breakers are $15 - $20 each depending on brand.



Maybe your confusing countries. I just came back from traveling around several areas of Japan. Their electrical system is either 100v or 110v, essentially the same as ours. Amp-wise I am not sure, but its likely the same as well. You can plug in any American electrical item and it will work without any kind of power converter. Socket-wise they almost universally use the older non-polarized two pronged sockets we usually only see here on much older properties. Polarized and grounded sockets are sometimes provided in hotels for American guests, usually by gerry-rigging an American style socket into their wiring or by plugging in an American power-strip with a plug converter (not power converter as not needed) or with its ground plug snipped off.

Japanese electrical items also work and plug into our system easily. If anything, the only issues I’ve encountered has been related with plugging in either a grounded plug or a polarized plug, which you’d have anyway with our older sockets. I would be concerned with any major appliance or even an electrical item such as TVs or computers being plugged in without a ground wire, but there is little you can do about that if the electrical system doesn’t support a ground wire anyway.

I suppose its possible that some more remote areas of Japan may use some different sockets or voltages but rather doubt it. Such a situation would be hell for local electronics companies.

I asked my expert and learned that Japan is on 100 volts, but 50 cycles/second in the northern part of the country and 60 cycles/second in the the south ( or maybe 60 in the north, reversed).

We lived north of Mito, and the trains between Mito and Tokyo would have to slow way down when they converted from one system to the other. This was 10 years ago.

The plugs are the same and appliances ungrounded. Japanese appliances will run hotter and faster on our 110 volt system as there is less resistance.

I know that my Japanese yoghurt machine would not jell the yoghurt back in the US without the converter.



I assume there is a motor in that yogurt maker. I’m guessing the maker wired the motor right up to the wiring with little or no tolerances built-in. To be fair the goodies we brought back and stuff we took there were mainly electronics so their electrical systems had to be built to a higher and more stable standard. Although I will note that the shops sell electronic goodies to Americans all the time for use back here; they have stuff there that is almost impossible to get here.

Either way this is going way off topic. The voltage doesn’t really matter in this case as the original poster just needs replacement two prong sockets. Assuming he cannot find US ones, the Japanese ones are the right shape and should work as long as they are rated for 15 amps or more (which they should be); the voltage should be irrelevant in this case.


That aside, unless your rental return is so low that you definitely cannot afford it I would just bite the bullet and obtain GFCI receptacles to replace all your sockets. A quick search on Google shows them available at about $8 each. Considering your wiring is old as is, I figure its quite likely that there aren’t many sockets to worry about in the first place so $80-$100 and a couple of hours for an apartment or house should do. You may not even need to replace every socket as it sounds like you only need to use them when replacing old two prong sockets with three pronged ones. And the GFCI receptacles can even be wired to protect other sockets down the line. On the good side not only may you save someone from being electrocuted to death at some future time but you may save yourself some insurance money (in lower premiums) and prevent a possible future civil suit.

I just don’t see the point here. I talked to the HUD inspector. He said the argument is that it is “confusing” to the tenant to have a 3 prong outlet when it’s not actually grounded. I told him that we both know a tenant is going to either break off the ground prong of a 3 prong appliance or they would just get one of the 3 to 2 prong adapters and still plug into a 2 prong outlet if we just re-installed 2 prong outlets. He agreed with me. I’m going to suck it up and put ours in compliance. I just think the argument is pretty weak and it’s a way to make LL’s spend a lot more money for no real gain.
I’m not an electrician, but every diagram I find for GFCI outlets show wiring for white/black/ground(green). My problem is the lack of a ground wire so I don’t see how just installing a bunch of GFCI outlets with only white & black wires gets me anywhere.

Using grounded outlets on a ungrounded circuit is a pure code violation. As stated before, you can get the ungrounded, two prong outlets from home depot, lowes or electrical supply houses. They can run a couple bucks each and still be in compliant. A GFCI will not solve to ungrounded issue with the grounded outlets on that circuit, you still would be in violation. I would also suspect that your rental might even have knob and tube wiring in the walls, I would be very careful. Contact a licensed electrician for better advice and start saving up for some rewiring. You can not run single ground wires to pipes or whatever, that is bad advice and can create other problems.

Check your wiring, do you have romex, knob and tube or armored through out the unit? Circuit breakers or fuses?

That would be a code violation and can create other grounding issues.

The GFCI receptacles provide protection whether they are grounded or not. I’m sure it would be better to have them grounded if at all possible, but they don’t absolutely require it to work either. The code you posted just says protected by GFCI, probably applies to either GFCI breakers or GFCI receptacles; though ask section 8 first just to be sure.

Who told you that?!

I’m not sure what area of the country you are from, but it my area it’s right in the code book that you can do it. I didn’t invent this. That’s were I got the knowledge from. And I suspect if you call the electrical safety office in your area and pull a permit it will pass.

You take the green ground conduit wire and slide it into the electrical box and add a ground screw to the box and connect it to the electrical box screw and the plug ground screw of a regular ground plug. The other end you attach to an approved cold water ground pipe clamp. I don’t know where you get the grounding issues unless your cold water pipe is separated by plastic pipe, which is very rare in an older building. Obviously, you’ll know when you test it with the $5 ground plug tester.

The problem with GFI plugs is half of them don’t even fit inside the older electrical boxes in older buildings. So, your only other options are the expensive GFI breakers if you have a breaker panel or running a ground wire to the nearest cold water pipe.

The point is that the metal case or frame is the grounded in most equipment. If a wire chafes or comes into contact with the metal it creates a short circuit and blows the fuse. By replacing the two wire (ungrounded) outlets with three wire (groundeed), you are creating a situtation where if something happens to the appliance or device and the frame comes into contact with the hot wire it will cause the whole case to become hot and electrocute anyone that touches it. What you have been doing is not safe and needs to be corrected immediately.

Another thing that can happen is what’s called a floating ground - where the motor induces a voltage in the frame when it runs. I rented a house years ago where the landlord had done what you had and my washing machine (which was in good operation order) would shock me with a pretty unpleasant zap if I touched a spot where the paint had flaked off. This istuation is probably already happening with appliances without a ground. It’s not too unsafe, but the first situation is. You need to fix all of them before someone gets killed.


  1. If you are good at fishing wires run a green wire to each outlet, and back to the breaker box for each circuit. (Do not run it to the nearest pipe-not a code compliant ground) (That would however fake out the tester, if thats all your looking to do)
    Then properly ground your panel.

  2. Buy 2 prong outlets. Still available, more expensive.

  3. Get GFCI Outlets

Also, In my area Section 8 required only one outlet per room (2 if there is no hard-wired lighting). You could “fix” most of those outlets by just removing them.

If it were me, I’d gound the ones that are easy to ground, and remove the rest.

Name the rule in your area. I challenge you.

The 2007-2010 Electrical Code Simplified of the Electrical Safety Code Book for my area says it can be grounded to the nearest grounded cold water pipe in the basement. They even have a diagram of the cold water pipe running under the floor joist with the ground clamp attached to the pipe and the other end fished through the outlet box. Rewiring an existing house–Replacing Old Plug Receptacles. Subrules 26-700(7)(8)&(9 & Bulletin 26-5-6. Page 126. The book is right in front of me. Do you want to make a $1,000 wager on it with the money held by the Mods that it says you can?