New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination Bars Landlords from Discriminating Against Potential Tenants Based on Their Receipt of Government Rental Assistance
TRENTON — Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin announced today that the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights (DCR) has issued findings of probable cause in eight cases involving alleged violations of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination’s prohibition against housing discrimination based on source of lawful income.
All eight cases involve allegations that individuals seeking rental housing were denied the opportunity to rent because they were receiving rental assistance or, because of their landlords’ refusal to complete and return required documentation, were unable to obtain rental assistance. Under New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (LAD), landlords cannot refuse to rent to potential tenants or discourage them from renting because they receive government rental assistance.
The findings of probable cause were issued in eight cases involving discrimination based on source of income for properties in six counties: Atlantic, Bergen, Essex, Ocean, Passaic, and Union. A finding of probable cause indicates that DCR has concluded its preliminary investigation and determined there is sufficient evidence to support a reasonable suspicion that the LAD has been violated. Findings of probable cause do not represent final adjudications of the cases on the merits. Following a final adjudication on the merits by the Superior Court or by the Office of Administrative Law, a respondent found conclusively to violate the LAD may be required to pay a penalty of up to $10,000 per violation for their first adjudicated violation, and up to $50,000 per violation if they commit multiple adjudicated violations within a five-year period.
“We have a duty to eliminate discriminatory barriers to safe, affordable housing in New Jersey, where that basic right is protected by law,” said Attorney General Platkin. “Anyone who refuses to rent to or discourages potential renters from renting because they receive rental assistance is violating the LAD and will be held accountable. Today’s actions reflect our ongoing dedication to protecting our residents.”
“Our laws in New Jersey provides some of the country’s strongest protections against housing discrimination. Under the law, you cannot be denied housing because you are using a housing voucher or other form of government rental assistance,” said Sundeep Iyer, Director of the Division on Civil Rights. “We are committed to ensuring that all New Jersey residents have access to safe, affordable housing, and we will continue to hold accountable any housing provider who discriminates against a prospective renter because they receive government rental assistance.”
Three of the cases involve discrimination based on the complainant’s participation in the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP), which provided monetary relief to certain low-income households affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Three cases involved complaints alleging that landlords refused to rent to applicants due to the applicants’ intent to pay part of their rent through the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program (Section 8). Funded by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Section 8 voucher program provides assistance to low-income families, the elderly, and individuals with disabilities so they can afford housing. One case involved rental assistance from Catholic Family Services, and another case involved temporary rental assistance provided through Essex County Citizens Services. The respondents range from real estate brokers, realtors, and housing providers.
The eight cases involve a variety of conduct that likely violates the LAD’s prohibition against source-of-income discrimination. In one Bergen County case, for example, a broker was recorded on the phone repeatedly stating that the housing provider would not accept Section 8.
In another case, an Ocean County landlord refused to provide necessary documents and information required for the county’s ERAP to a potential renter. There was also sufficient evidence to support the conclusion that the landlord harassed the complainant because of the renter’s attempted use of rental assistance.
In an Essex County case, a landlord failed to cooperate with a potential renter in completing and returning the required documentation for temporary rental assistance. Instead, the landlord stated that the agency from which the complainant would be receiving rental assistance was not an “accepted agency.” The LAD requires landlords to accept payment from all rental assistance programs.
The New Jersey Division on Civil Rights enforces the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, the New Jersey Family Leave Act, and the Fair Chance in Housing Act, and works to prevent, eliminate, and remedy discrimination and bias-based harassment in employment, housing, and places of public accommodation throughout New Jersey.
To find out more information, go to www.njcivilrights.gov.