By: Richard L. Smith
In an unprecedented move, New Jersey's Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin and the Division on Civil Rights (DCR) have issued Notices of Violation to 35 housing providers across the state.
Implemented as the first of its kind in the United States, the FCHA aims to offer comprehensive protection against the denial of housing opportunities to individuals based on their criminal records.
According to the allegations, the targeted housing providers breached the act by posing prohibited criminal history-related questions on applications, outright refusing to consider applicants with past criminal records, and posting advertisements or upholding housing policies in direct violation of the FCHA.
The crackdown spans 23 municipalities across 12 counties, including Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Essex, Gloucester, Hudson, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Ocean, Passaic, and Union.
This enforcement action brings the total to over 150 since the FCHA's inception in January 2022, reflecting a robust effort to ensure compliance with the groundbreaking legislation.
Attorney General Platkin emphasized the Murphy Administration's commitment to housing access for all New Jersey residents, highlighting the importance of housing stability for individuals impacted by the justice system.
He underscored that a criminal history should not automatically disqualify someone from fair access to housing in the state.
Director of the Division on Civil Rights, Sundeep Iyer, pointed out the ongoing challenge of ensuring housing providers comply with the FCHA.
The enforcement actions announced signal a continued priority to uphold the act's provisions and protect against discrimination.
Violations cited include unlawful inquiries on housing applications, such as asking about felony convictions, and advertising requirements for a "clean criminal history."
The FCHA prohibits housing providers from refusing applicants with a criminal record and from inquiring about criminal history prior to extending a conditional housing offer.
The act addresses racial inequity in housing access, as policies limiting housing for individuals with criminal records disproportionately affect people of color, especially Black individuals.
Notices of Violation warn housing providers of potential civil penalties for non-compliance, ranging up to $10,000 for repeated offenses.
They also include detailed information packets about the FCHA and the responsibilities of housing providers under the law, emphasizing the illegality of considering certain types of records, including arrests not leading to convictions, expunged convictions, and juvenile adjudications, among others.
This move by New Jersey's DCR is part of a concerted effort to eliminate barriers to housing for those with criminal records, ensuring fair treatment and opportunities for all state residents.