Credit: (AP Photo / Rich Pedroncelli, file)
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Lawyers recently complained about the non-compliance with a new law designed to help people with criminal records get housing. Now, with the help of a small internet search, New Jersey is starting to crack down.

The New Jersey Civil Rights Division announced on Monday that it had sent letters of termination and refusal to seven landlords or housing managers in connection with rental announcements in violation of the three-month Housing Act (FCHA), which makes it illegal to discriminate against potential tenants. on criminal record.

Properties are located in East Orange in Essex County, Jersey City and Western New York in Hudson County, Lafayette in Sussex County, Philipsburg in Warren County, South Amboy in Middlesex County and South Bowet Bound.

State investigators looked at ads on online housing platforms such as Zillow, Trulia and HotPads, finding statements that appear to violate a law that prohibits even questioning the criminal histories of a potential tenant in initial housing applications. Among the phrases allegedly found in the ads were “No criminal case or eviction history,” “No previous criminal record,” and “Verification of reference. NO criminal record (without exception) ”.

“If you break the law, we will look for you and we will bring you to justice.”

“The FCHA is a critical tool in the fight against our country’s ongoing heritage of housing discrimination and segregation,” said Rosemary DiSavina, deputy director of civil rights. She said the department is “committed to using all the tools in its arsenal, including public education and active investigations, to aggressively and meaningfully combat housing discrimination.”

Acting Attorney General Matt Platkin said the actions warned landlords and property managers that our civil rights department is actively monitoring the housing market for violations of the Fair Housing Opportunity Act. If you break the law, we will look for you and bring you to justice. “

Lawyers complained

Lawyers welcomed the actions of the state, which was the first to announce in support of the new law. Two months ago, a number of advocates said people with criminal records continued to be discriminated against by landlords, despite the fact that the law went into effect earlier this year. The law, which Governor Phil Murphy signed last June, prohibits homeowners from reviewing a person’s criminal history until they make an initial offer of housing. But many landlords were still doing so, defenders said, and urged the state to start enforcing the law.

“The Attorney General’s actions are constructive, at least in order to send a clear message of intent to take action,” said former Gov. Jim McGreevy, who heads the New Jersey Return Corporation, which helps people after their release from prison. .

“I understand the reluctance of landlords, but the people we work with are changing their lives, they are on the path to healthy, responsible citizenship,” McGreevy added. “This law and its implementation are very important. It is difficult, almost impossible – physically, emotionally, spiritually impossible – to keep a job while living in a shelter. “

Adam Gordon, executive director of the Fair Share Housing Center, said enforcing the law would help eliminate racial discrimination in housing, given the large racial disparity among those involved in the criminal justice system.

“The Fair Housing Opportunity Act intentionally included a strong enforcement mechanism because we know that enforcement is critical to combating housing discrimination in our state,” he said. “Legislative enforcement makes this law a reality … We hope that with continued education and coverage, this law can begin to transform access to housing in New Jersey.”

Warning landlords about changing legislation

Lawyers say some landlords may not be aware of the changes in the law. On April 12, May 11 and June 14, the unit held some training sessions and planned additional ones. Information on training and the law is available on the division’s website. Letters sent by the department warn homeowners that their advertising is likely to violate the law and that could result in financial fines of up to $ 10,000 for each violation. The unit is continuing its investigation.

The law does not prohibit questioning a potential tenant’s report at all. Having made a conditional offer of housing, landlords may inquire about a criminal record. They can then withdraw housing offers to people convicted of serious crimes such as murder or arson, registered sex offenders and those who have recently been released after serving a criminal conviction. There are many cases where a person can never be denied housing, including on charges that have not led to a criminal record, a revoked criminal record, or juvenile delinquency.

Those who believe they have been discriminated against can file a complaint online department or by phone 973-648-2700.

A number of legal organizations, including New Jersey Legal Services and Voluntary lawyers for justice, also support former prisoners and persons with modest means in matters of rent. In partnership with New Jersey Reentry Corporation Embankment project provide their clients with advice on housing issues and assist them in matters related to the Housing Law Act.

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