By: Yuritza Arroyo
Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin and the Division on Civil Rights (DCR) announced today that DCR has issued 59 Notices of Violation to housing providers around the State for allegedly violating New Jersey’s Fair Chance in Housing Act (FCHA) by asking criminal history-related questions on housing applications that are prohibited by the law, or by posting housing advertisements or maintaining housing policies that do not comply with FCHA.
According to officials, the FCHA, which went into effect on January 1, 2022, 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 FCHA bars housing providers from asking about an applicant’s criminal history on an application form or in an interview before making the applicant a conditional housing offer.
The law also generally bars housing providers from stating in any housing advertisements they post or publish that that they will not consider housing applicants with a criminal record.
The Notices of Violation announced today identified housing providers who allegedly violated the FCHA in nearly every corner of the State.
Those housing providers are located in over 40 municipalities across 16 counties: Atlantic, Bergen, Burlington, Camden, Cumberland, Essex, Gloucester, Hudson, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Morris, Ocean, Passaic, Sussex, and Union counties.
“The Fair Chance in Housing Act is a reflection of the Murphy Administration’s continued commitment to ensuring that every New Jersey resident has access to secure, safe, affordable housing,” said Attorney General Platkin.
“We are also committed to making sure that people who have criminal records can return to their communities with dignity and with the resources they need to lead productive lives. Taking action against these housing providers underscores that commitment.”
“As the first state law of its kind in the country, the Fair Chance in Housing Act provides landmark protections against housing discrimination. It ensures that people with criminal histories have a fair shot at accessing safe, affordable housing in our State,” said Sundeep Iyer, Director of the Division on Civil Rights.
“The enforcement actions we are announcing today reflect our unwavering commitment to addressing housing discrimination across our State.”
The Notices of Violation inform the housing providers that DCR is aware that each provider either has asked a discriminatory question on its housing application form or has included an unlawful statement of eligibility criteria (such as “no criminal records”) in housing advertising materials for which the provider was responsible.
The Notices advise housing providers that DCR believes their actions are in violation of the law and that they may 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.
Information packets explaining the FCHA and the obligations of housing providers under the law are included with each Notice of Violation.
The information packets explain, among other things, that it is 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; or
- Sealed records.
In general, a housing provider is permitted to ask about an applicant’s criminal history or conduct a criminal background check only after approving an applicant for housing and making the applicant a conditional offer of housing. In most cases, housing providers are not permitted to deny housing to someone simply because they have a criminal record.
Under the FCHA, a housing provider who has issued a conditional offer to a housing applicant is permitted to withdraw that offer based on the applicant’s criminal history only after considering certain individualized factors, including the nature and severity of the offense(s), the applicant’s age at the time of the offense, how recently the offense(s) occurred, and any information the applicant provided in their favor since the offense(s).
Since the FCHA went into effect in January 2022, DCR has resolved 62 of the FCHA enforcement actions it has brought against housing providers across the State.
In each resolution, the housing provider has signed an Assurance of Voluntary Compliance with DCR. As part of the resolution, the housing provider agreed to comply in full with the FCHA going forward, to adopt written policies explaining their plan to do so and to provide training to all of its employees or agents on that written policy.
Each provider also made a payment to DCR.