State Issues 30 Notices of Violation to Housing Providers for Non-Compliance with Law Expanding Housing Opportunities for Persons with Criminal Records
For Immediate Release: August 25, 2022
Office of the Attorney General
– Matthew J. Platkin, Acting Attorney General
Division on Civil Rights
– Rosemary DiSavino, Deputy Director
TRENTON – Acting Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin and the Division on Civil Rights (DCR) announced today that DCR has issued 30 Notices of Violation to housing providers around the state for allegedly violating New Jersey’s Fair Chance in Housing Act by asking questions on housing applications that are prohibited by the law, and by posting housing advertisements or maintaining housing policies that do not comply with the statute.
The Fair Chance in Housing Act (FCHA), which took effect on January 1 of this year, expands opportunities for people with criminal records to find safe, affordable housing. The law addresses an important driver of racial inequality in New Jersey, as eligibility rules limiting housing opportunities for people with criminal records have long disproportionately affected people of color, especially Black people. Among other things, the new law bars housing providers from asking about an applicant’s criminal history on an application form or in an interview prior to making the applicant a conditional offer of housing. The law also generally bars housing providers from stating in any housing advertisements they post or publish that that they categorically will not consider housing applicants with a criminal record.
To enforce these prohibitions, DCR has established a new fair housing unit dedicated to vigorously investigating and prosecuting violations of the FCHA. The violation notices announced today are part of DCR’s ongoing efforts to ensure that no one in New Jersey is unlawfully denied housing on the basis of their criminal record.
“The Fair Chance in Housing Act, the first state law of its kind in the country, reflects our state’s deep and unwavering commitment to ensuring that every New Jersey resident has a fair chance to find safe, affordable housing,” said Acting Attorney General Platkin. “The enforcement actions we’re announcing today send a clear message that we will not tolerate violations of this landmark law, and we will continue to actively enforce the critical protections it provides. Make no mistake: If you violate the FCHA, we will hold you accountable.”
“A criminal record can have a devastating, albeit unfair, impact on a person’s ability to find safe and affordable housing. The FCHA offers the promise that a criminal record alone cannot disqualify an applicant from consideration,” said Rosemary DiSavino, Deputy Director of the Division on Civil Rights. “These Notices of Violation serve to ensure that housing providers are in compliance with and educated about this groundbreaking law.”
Notices of Violation announced today identify 30 FCHA violations by housing providers located throughout the state in 14 of New Jersey’s 21 counties, including in Asbury Park, Bayville, Berlin, Bridgeton, Burlington, Carneys Point, Cherry Hill, Cinnaminson, Elizabeth, Florence, Glassboro, Hamilton, Jersey City, Lawrenceville, Little Ferry, Marlton, Metuchen, Midland Park, Newark, Passaic, Princeton, Roebling, Toms River, Trenton, Vineland, and Woodbury.
The Notices of Violation advise recipients that DCR has become aware that either the housing provider has asked a discriminatory question on the provider’s application form, or that the provider has included an unlawful statement of eligibility criteria or housing policy (such as “no criminal records”) in housing advertising for which the provider is responsible.
The Notices inform housing providers that DCR believes their actions are in violation of the law, and that they face civil penalties of up to $1,000 for a first offense, up to $5,000 for a second offense, and up to $10,000 for any subsequent offense.
Accompanying the Violation Notices are individual Assurance of Voluntary Compliance agreements. By signing those agreements, the recipient providers can resolve the matter by agreeing to certain policy and training terms, and by agreeing to make a payment in lieu of an assessed civil penalty.
Also accompanying the violation notices are information packets explaining in detail the FCHA, as well as the obligations of housing providers under the law.
Among other things, the information packets advise that it is always unlawful for a housing provider to consider any of the following records in determining the eligibility of a housing applicant:
- Arrests or charges that did not result in a criminal conviction
- Expunged convictions
- Convictions erased through executive pardon
- Vacated and otherwise legally nullified convictions
- Juvenile adjudications of delinquency
- Sealed records
Generally, a housing provider is permitted to ask about an applicant’s criminal history or conduct a criminal background check only after otherwise approving an applicant and making the applicant a conditional offer of housing.
Even then, additional requirements need to be satisfied before the housing provider can reject an applicant based on the applicant’s criminal history. In most cases, housing providers are not permitted to deny housing to someone simply because they have a criminal record.
Under the law, a housing provider who has issued a conditional offer to a housing applicant is only permitted to withdraw that offer based on the applicant’s criminal history in certain circumstances.
Specifically, the housing provider is permitted to do so only if the applicant has a criminal conviction, and if that conviction meets certain requirements relating to the seriousness of the offense, as well as how much time has passed. If that individualized assessment leads the housing provider to withdraw the conditional offer, the provider must give written notice to the applicant explaining the specific reason(s) for the decision, and must give the applicant a chance to dispute the criminal history at issue by showing it contains errors, or by offering evidence of rehabilitation or other mitigating factors.
The enforcement actions announced today mark the latest chapter in DCR’s ongoing efforts to enforce the FCHA. In March 2022, DCR announced a series of enforcement actions against housing providers across the state who had posted discriminatory advertisements. And in January 2022, DCR adopted regulations implementing the FCHA.
For more information on the FCHA and how to file a complaint with DCR, please visit https://www.njoag.gov/about/divisions-and-offices/division-on-civil-rights-home/fcha/.
To view a related video on the FCHA, visit: https://youtu.be/iSihO98pEgA
DCR is the state agency responsible for preventing and eliminating discrimination and bias-based harassment in employment, housing, and places of public accommodation (e.g., places open to the public like schools, businesses, hospitals, etc.) by enforcing the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD), the New Jersey Family Leave Act, and now the Fair Chance in Housing Act (FCHA).