New Jersey Attorney General Sends Message to Landlords In Violation of the State’s New Ban-the-Box Law for Housing

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New Jersey Attorney General Sends Message to Landlords In Violation of the State’s New Ban-the-Box Law for Housing
September 23, 2022

New Jersey’s Attorney General’s Office has boldly declared that it is beginning to enforce the state’s new Fair Chance in Housing Act. Similar to “Ban-the-Box” laws for employment, this Act forbids New Jersey landlords from considering potential tenants’ criminal history until after issuing a conditional offer. In addition, the attorney general’s office announced that it sent violation notices to thirty New Jersey housing providers. The office accuses them of including language in their applications or advertisements that may violate the law.

These actions are in response to demands from criminal justice activists. These activists demand that the Attorney General’s Office more aggressively enforce the law to send a clear message that violators will be held accountable. These warning letters accompanied information packets and compliance agreements. These letters informed housing providers that agreeing to training and payment instead of the ordinary civil penalties, which increase for every violation. First offenses can be penalized up to $1,000, second offenses up to $5,000, and all subsequent offenses up to $10,000.

Under this law, enacted at the start of this year, landlords may only consider specific criminal history after issuing a conditional offer. The criminal records include, but are not limited to:

  • Convictions for murder, sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault, kidnapping, arson, human trafficking, and endangering the welfare of a child in violation of N.J.S.2C:24-4(b)(3);
  • Convictions for a crime that requires state sex offender registration for life;
  • Convictions for a 1st-degree indictable offense or release from prison for such an offense in the prior six years;
  • Convictions for a 2nd or 3rd-degree indictable offense, or release from prison for such an offense in the prior four years;
  • Convictions for a 4th-degree indictable offense or release from prison for such an offense in the prior year

If a housing provider chooses to withdraw a conditional offer based on an applicant’s record, they must complete an individualized assessment. This assessment considers the following:

  • The nature and severity of the offense(s);
  • The age of the applicant at the time of the crime(s);
  • The amount of time since the crime(s);
  • Information the applicant provides in their favor;
  • Any impact a recurrence of the offense(s) would have on the property or other tenants; and
  • Whether the offense(s) occurred on or in connection to property rented or leased by the applicant.

The housing provider must also provide such applicants with a Notice of Withdrawal. The notice includes reasons for withdrawing the offer and notifies the applicants of their right to appeal the decision. The applicants may then request all information that influenced the decision. They must do so within 30 days of receiving the notice and appeal the decision to the provider. The appeal must explain the violation of the Act and provide additional supporting information. The provider must then make a subsequent decision within 30 days.

Landlords will likely continue seeing increased enforcement as the Attorney General’s office has established a “fair housing unit to investigate potential violations of the Fair Chance in Housing Act.” As a result, all New Jersey landlords must become familiar with this new law and ensure that all of their advertisements, applications, and policies comply with its regulations.

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