Housing Discrimination

Know the Law

Rachel Weiner Apter - Director
Rachel Wainer Apter, Director

Housing Discrimination

The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) prohibits discrimination in housing based on actual or perceived:

  • Race or color;
  • Religion or creed;
  • National origin, nationality, or ancestry;
  • Sex, pregnancy, or breastfeeding;
  • Sexual orientation;
  • Gender identity or expression;
  • Disability;
  • Marital status or domestic partnership/civil union status;
  • Liability for military service;
  • Familial status (having children under age 18); and
  • Source of lawful income used for rental or mortgage payments.

The prohibition applies to real estate agents and housing providers, including property owners, agents, employees and brokers, landlords, superintendents, and condominium associations. The law means, for example, that a leasing agent cannot refuse to rent an apartment to a person because she is Muslim, and a real estate agent cannot decline to show listings to a Black family in a particular neighborhood. Housing providers and real estate agents also cannot retaliate against a person for exercising or attempting to exercise their rights under the LAD. Anyone who believes their rights under the LAD have been violated may file a complaint with DCR within 180 days of the incident. Click here to learn more about filing a complaint with DCR.

Click here to view a fact sheet on housing discrimination.

Click here to learn more about the Multiple Dwelling Reporting Rule or to file your report.

Source of Lawful Income Discrimination

Housing providers may not refuse to rent to a prospective tenant based on the tenant’s “source of lawful income”—which includes child support, alimony, supplemental security income, and vouchers provided by federal, state, or local rental assistance programs.

That means a landlord cannot refuse to rent to someone because they plan to pay with a Section 8 voucher, SRAP (State Rental Assistance Program), TRA (temporary rental assistance), or COVID-19 emergency rental assistance. They also cannot advertise any such discrimination or limitation (i.e., a listing cannot say “Section 8 not accepted” or “No TRA”).

In addition, a housing provider may not ignore a person’s receipt and use of rental assistance (such as Section 8 housing choice vouchers, SRAP, or TRA) when applying minimum income requirements to a person’s rental application. This means that any minimum income requirement, financial standard, or income standard must be calculated based only on the portion of the rent to be paid by the tenant, rather than the entire monthly rent.

Click here to view a fact sheet on discrimination based on source of lawful income.

Unlawful Steering

The LAD prohibits unlawful steering. Steering occurs when a real estate broker or housing provider: (1) advises clients to seek housing in a particular neighborhood or town, or not to seek housing in a particular neighborhood or town, because of their race, religion, national origin, or other protected characteristic; or (2) fails to show clients available listings because of their race, religion, national origin, or other protected characteristic.

So steering occurs, for example, when a real estate broker shows a Black family homes only in predominantly Black neighborhoods, or when a property manager in an apartment complex declines to show Latinx applicants vacant units in a building where the large majority of residents are Chinese-American because he thinks either the current residents or the applicants will be “uncomfortable.”

Steering is unlawful even if the real estate agent or housing provider does not believe they are motivated by bias. For example, it is unlawful for a broker to decide to show white families homes only in a predominantly white town (or to not inform those families of available listings in a more diverse town), even if the broker says it is because “the schools are better” in the predominantly white town. Likewise, it is illegal for an agent to decide to show Indian-American clients listings only in a particular neighborhood with many Indian-American families because she believes they will be “more comfortable” there.

Finally, a housing provider with units in different neighborhoods cannot use stricter income, credit, or other criteria for units in a predominantly white neighborhood than it uses for units in a majority-minority neighborhood in order to prevent minority applicants from renting apartments in the predominantly white neighborhood.

Click here to view a fact sheet about unlawful steering.

Bias-based Harassment, Including Sexual Harassment

The LAD prohibits bias-based harassment in housing. If a resident is being subjected to bias-based harassment that creates a hostile environment, the housing provider must take reasonable steps to stop it if they knew or should have known about it. That is true regardless of whether the harassment is perpetrated by a housing provider’s employees or agents, real estate brokers, or in some circumstances, fellow residents.

Sexual harassment can include verbal harassment, such as obscene language or demeaning comments; physical harassment, such as unwanted touching; or visual harassment, such as displaying pornographic images, cartoons, or drawings.

There are two types of unlawful sexual harassment: “quid pro quo” and hostile environment.

Quid pro quo harassment occurs when a benefit is conditioned on sexual favors, or when an adverse action is threatened if a person refuses a sexual advance. One example is a building manager demanding sex or sexual favors as a condition of making repairs to a unit. A hostile environment exists when a resident is subjected to severe or pervasive sexual harassment that creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive housing environment. That includes, for example, a landlord repeatedly making sexually suggestive comments about a person’s body or clothing.

Click here to view a fact sheet about sexual harassment in housing.

Reasonable Accommodations for People with Disabilities

Housing providers must reasonably accommodate residents with disabilities. For example, if a resident with a disability shows that keeping an emotional support animal is necessary to afford them an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling, the housing provider must permit the emotional support animal, even if they have a “no pets” policy, unless they can show that doing so would be an undue burden.

Click here to view a fact sheet about emotional support animals in housing.

Disparate Treatment vs. Disparate Impact

The LAD prohibits conduct that is intended to treat people differently based on their membership in a protected class (disparate treatment) as well as policies and practices that disproportionately affect those in a protected class, even when the policies and practices are neutral on their face and are not intended to discriminate (disparate impact).

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