Acting Attorney General Andrew J. Bruck announced today that the Division on Civil Rights (DCR) has adopted new rules that expand opportunities for people with criminal records to find safe, affordable housing.
The new rules codify the Fair Chance in Housing Act, which took effect on January 1.
According to Acting Attorney General Bruck, due to racial disparities in the criminal justice system, practices that restrict housing opportunities for people with criminal histories have disproportionately affected people of color, especially Black people.
By signing the Fair Chance in Housing Act into law last year, Governor Phil Murphy furthered his Administration’s commitment to taking action to dismantle systemic racial disparities that have been allowed to exist for too long in New Jersey, while reducing housing instability that can contribute to recidivism.
"This Administration is committed to leveling an uneven playing field when it comes to access to housing in New Jersey, and we are delivering on our promise to make our State a fairer place to live," Governor Phil Murphy said.
"On Juneteenth, I signed the Fair Chance in Housing Act, which seeks to eliminate unnecessary barriers to housing for individuals who have been court-involved or incarcerated. Safe and secure housing is a fundamental right, and I thank the Division on Civil Rights for taking action to further ensure access to housing for all."
According to Acting Attorney General Bruck, with limited exceptions, the Fair Chance in Housing Act and DCR’s new rules bar housing providers who have not yet made a conditional offer from requiring applicants to fill out any type of form that includes questions about their criminal background.
Generally, only after otherwise approving an applicant and making a conditional offer is a housing provider permitted to ask about an applicant’s criminal history or conduct a criminal background check.
Even then, additional requirements need to be satisfied before the housing provider may reject an applicant based on the applicant’s criminal history.
And in most cases, housing providers are not permitted to deny housing to someone simply because they have a criminal record.
According to Acting Attorney General Bruck, before the Fair Chance in Housing Act, housing providers were not explicitly prohibited from inquiring about applicants’ criminal histories on initial application materials and rejecting them on that basis, even if the record included only a minor infraction unrelated to eligibility as a future tenant.
Under the Act and DCR’s new rules, a housing provider who has issued a conditional offer to a housing applicant is only permitted to rescind that offer based on the applicant’s criminal history in certain circumstances.
Specifically, the housing provider is permitted to consider the applicant’s criminal record only if the applicant has a criminal conviction and if the conviction meets certain requirements relating to the seriousness of the offense and how much time has passed.
If that individualized assessment leads the housing provider to rescind the conditional offer, the housing provider must provide 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.