NEW JERSEY – The Division on Civil Rights has begun its proactive enforcement of the Fair Chance in Housing Act with cease-and-desist letters to seven housing providers whose advertisements appear to unlawfully discriminate against applicants based on their prior involvement with the criminal justice system, Acting Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin announced Monday
The Fair Chance in Housing Act—which took effect on January 1, 2022—expands opportunities for people with criminal records to find safe, affordable housing by restricting when and how housing providers can consider applicants’ criminal histories.
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.
“We are committed to ensuring that every New Jersey resident has a fair chance to find safe and affordable housing,” said Acting Attorney General Platkin. “With the enforcement actions announced today, housing providers are on notice that our Division on Civil Rights is actively monitoring the housing market for violations of the Fair Chance in Housing Act. If you are violating the law, we will seek you out, and we will hold you accountable.”
“The FCHA is a critical tool in addressing our country’s ongoing legacy of housing discrimination and segregation,” said DCR Deputy Director Rosemary DiSavino. “DCR is committed to using every tool in its arsenal, including public education and proactive investigations, to aggressively and meaningfully combat housing discrimination.”
The Fair Chance in Housing Act generally prohibits housing providers from discriminating in advertisements, notices, or other publications against those with criminal records by indicating that they will not consider anyone with a criminal record. Exceptions exist for convictions subjecting the applicant to lifetime registration as a sex offender and for convictions for the manufacture or production of methamphetamine on the premises of federally assisted housing.
The law also restricts how housing providers inquire about applicants’ criminal history and use such information during the screening process.
DCR’s proactive investigations of potential violations of the Fair Chance in Housing Act have included reviews of housing advertisements on online housing platforms such as Zillow, Trulia, and Hotpads.
DCR’s reviews identified a variety of language in housing advertisements that may violate the law, including:
- “No criminal or eviction history.”
- “No Prior Criminal Felony Convictions on your record.”
- “No evictions and No criminal background”
- “Background check. NO criminal records. (No exception)”
- “Clean background check (No bankruptcy/ No eviction / No criminal record)”
- “Move-In Requirements: … No criminal history”
The seven cease-and-desist letters announced today warn recipients that advertisements they have published, or caused to be published, likely violate the law; that violations may result in financial penalties of up to $10,000 per violation; and that DCR’s investigations of the recipients’ potential violations are ongoing.
The properties at issue are located across New Jersey, including in:
- West New York
- South Bound Brook
- East Orange
- South Amboy
- Jersey City
In addition to taking these enforcement actions, DCR has counseled housing providers on compliance with the law and has held multiple virtual panels for members of the general public.
Hundreds of housing providers, real estate agents, and other housing professionals have participated in DCR’s Fair Chance in Housing Act trainings. Upcoming webinars are scheduled for April 12, May 11, and June 14. Anyone who is interested can register here.
Additional written guidance and videos about the Fair Chance in Housing Act are available on DCR’s website.