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Housing
Recognizing and Fighting Discrimination

Discrimination in renting is illegal

New Jersey and the United States laws prohibit discrimination in the rental of housing. These laws are called fair housing laws.

This section describes illegal discrimination and what you can do about it if you believe a landlord or real estate agency is violating fair housing laws. 

Under state and federal laws, it is illegal for a landlord or real estate agency to refuse to rent to you because of your race, religion, color, national origin, ancestry, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, or physical or mental handicap. These laws also make it illegal for a landlord or real estate agency to refuse to rent to you because you are pregnant or your family includes children under 18 years of age. 

Refusal to rent to Section 8 recipients and people with other types of income

New Jersey law also makes it illegal for a landlord to refuse to rent to a person because the person has a Section 8 voucher or another type of housing assistance. Cite: N.J.S.A. 10:5-12(g). This applies to tenants who obtain Section 8 while already tenants in a house or apartment, and to tenants who are seeking to rent from a landlord for the first time. A landlord cannot refuse to accept rental assistance from a tenant and then turn around and sue to evict that tenant for nonpayment of rent. Cite: Franklin Tower One, L.L.C. v. N.M., 157 N.J. 602 (1999).  

If you have a Section 8 voucher or another subsidy and a landlord refuses to rent to you, you should immediately contact an attorney or the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights. (New Jersey law also makes it illegal to refuse to rent to a person who will pay rent with other sources of income, such as welfare, alimony, or child support. Cite: N.J.S.A. 10:5-12[g].)

The New Jersey Division on Civil Rights has five local offices. You should call the local office that handles cases in your county.

Also see What may not be discrimination

Discrimination against families with children

State and federal laws make it illegal for a landlord or real estate agency to refuse to rent to families with children. See N.J.S.A. 10:5-12(g)(5). There are, however, some exceptions. A landlord can refuse to rent to families with children if the building was built only for senior citizens. But every apartment in such a building must be occupied by people over the age of 62. Retirement communities for people over 55 can refuse to rent to families with children, but only if they meet certain requirements. 

Under state law, it is illegal for a landlord to refuse to rent to a couple because they are not married. Cite: Kurman v. Fairmount Realty Corp., 8 N.J. Admin. Reports 110 (1985). And a court has ruled that it is illegal for a landlord to refuse to rent to homosexuals because of the landlord’s fear that they may have or get AIDS. Cite: Poff v. Caro, 228 N.J. Super. 370 (Law Div. 1987). 

Also see What may not be discrimination

Special protections for the disabled

If you are handicapped or disabled, federal and state laws have additional protections against discrimination. It is illegal for a landlord to refuse to rent to you just because of your handicap or disability. The landlord also cannot refuse to make reasonable changes to your apartment that will make it easier for you to live there. This means that the landlord must let you provide handrails, ramps, or any other special equipment you need. You will have to pay for these changes yourself. (Note: If you live in a subsidized building, the landlord may have to pay for the changes.) You will also have to pay the reasonable cost of removing the ramps or handrails or other changes when you move out of the apartment, if that is what the landlord wants. The law also says that the landlord must change the rules and regulations to make it possible for you to live in and enjoy an apartment, as long as the changes you are asking for are legal. Cite: 42 U.S.C. § 3604 and N.J.S.A. 10:5-4.1. 

The landlord may be able to make you deposit money into a special bank account each month to cover the cost of removing the ramps and other equipment when you move out. The landlord can only make you deposit this money if he or she can prove that the changes you need will be very expensive. However, the payments must be low enough that you can afford them, and must stop after the amount needed to make the changes has been deposited. The landlord must give you the interest earned on this special account. 

State law also permits a tenant with a disability to terminate a lease because the apartment or home is not “handicapped accessible.” You can break your lease only if you asked your landlord to make the unit accessible and the landlord is unwilling or unable to do so. Cite: N.J.S.A. 46:8-9.2.

Also see What may not be discrimination.  

What may not be discrimination

There are certain reasons a landlord may refuse to rent to you that are not illegal discrimination. A landlord doesn’t have to rent to you if your income is not high enough to afford the rent or if a check of your financial background shows that you have failed to pay rent for apartments in the past or have been unable to pay other debts. But these reasons may not be good reasons if you have a Section 8 voucher or another type of housing assistance. Cite: T.K. v. Landmark West, 353 N.J. Super. 223 (2002). However, see Pasquince v. Brighton Arms Apartments, 378 N.J. Super. 588 (App. Div. 2005), where the court held that a person with a Section 8 voucher could be denied an apartment if there was a poor credit history. It depends on the facts of the case. If you have a Section 8 voucher or another subsidy and a landlord refuses to rent to you because of your credit history or the amount of your income, you should contact an attorney or the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights. See Refusal to rent to Section 8 recipients and people with other types of income

A landlord can refuse to rent to you if your family is too large for the size of the apartment. Whether or not your family is too large usually depends upon how big the whole apartment is, not just how many bedrooms it has.

It is important that you ask the landlord to be specific about why he or she is refusing to rent to you. If you suspect illegal discrimination, get help from a fair housing group, Legal Services, a private attorney, or the Division on Civil Rights. 

How to file a discrimination complaint

Housing discrimination occurs frequently in New Jersey. There are government agencies set up to investigate complaints of housing discrimination. 

If you feel that the landlord will not rent an apartment to you because of your race, religion, color, national origin, ancestry, marital status, sex, handicap, sexual preference, source of income for rent payment, or because you have children, you can do several things. 

You can file a discrimination complaint directly with one of three government agencies. These agencies are required to investigate your complaint and take action to help you if they find that you have suffered discrimination. They can make landlords who discriminate pay money damages and can even get you into the apartment you wanted but were denied. Landlords who violate the Law Against Discrimination are subject to substantial fines—up to $10,000 for a first offense. Cite: N.J.S.A. 10-5-14.1(a).

It is important to call or write to these agencies immediately if you believe you are the victim of housing discrimination. You will want these agencies to investigate your complaint right away. 

There are two main agencies—one federal and one state—that handle housing discrimination complaints. 

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity Division
1 Newark Center, 13th Floor
Newark, NJ 07102
1-800-496-4294 (discrimination complaints)
(973) 622-7900 (HUD complaints)

New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety Division on Civil Rights

Atlantic City Office
26 S. Pennsylvania Avenue, 3rd Floor
Atlantic City, NJ 08401
(609) 441-3100
Serves Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland, Ocean, and Salem counties

Camden Office
1 Port Center, 4th Floor
2 Riverside Drive, Suite 402
Camden, NJ 08103
(856) 614-2550
Serves Burlington, Camden, and Gloucester counties

Newark Office
31 Clinton Street, 3rd Floor
P.O. Box 46001
Newark, NJ 07102
(973) 648-2700
Serves Essex, Hudson, Union, and Middlesex counties

Paterson Office
100 Hamilton Plaza, 8th Floor
Room 800
Paterson, NJ 07505
(973) 977-4508
Serves Bergen, Morris, Passaic, Sussex, and Warren counties

Trenton Office
140 East Front Street, 6th Floor
P.O. Box 090
Trenton, NJ 08625-0090
(609) 292-4605
Serves Burlington, Mercer, Hunterdon, Somerset, Monmouth, and Middlesex counties

You can find out more about the Division on Civil Rights, including information about filing a complaint, at the Division’s website.

Both agencies handle complaints about the various forms of illegal discrimination described above. Only the state agency, the Division on Civil Rights, handles complaints about discrimination based on sexual orientation.

If you have a complaint against a real estate broker or agent, the New Jersey Real Estate Commission can investigate and punish any broker or agent whom they find to have discriminated against you. The Commission cannot award money damages or force the broker to rent to you. The Commission can be reached at:

New Jersey Real Estate Commission
240 West State Street
P.O. Box 328
Trenton, NJ 08625-0328
(609) 292-8280

You also can go directly to court without using these agencies and sue the landlord and/or broker who you believe has discriminated against you. This means, however, that you may need your own lawyer and will have to do your own investigation. If you succeed in court, you may be able to get money damages, the apartment that was wrongfully denied you, and attorney’s fees.

If your complaint involves an owner-occupied two-family home, the Division on Civil Rights, HUD, and the Real Estate Commission won’t be able to help you. Your only choice in such a case is to go to court.

Local fair housing groups

Some counties have fair housing organizations that can help you with your discrimination complaint. They can investigate your complaint for free and help you get the housing you want. They can also help you bring charges against the landlord and/or real estate broker, find you an attorney, or help you file a complaint with HUD or the Division on Civil Rights.

The following counties have organizations that may be able to help you with your fair housing complaint:

Bergen County
Fair Housing Council of Northern New Jersey
131 Main Street, Suite 140
Hackensack, NJ 07601
(201) 489-3552

Middlesex County
Puerto Rican Housing Coalition
90 Jersey Avenue
New Brunswick, NJ 08901
(732) 828-4510

Monmouth County
Monmouth County Fair Housing Board
Community Development
Hall of Records Annex
1 East Main Street, 2nd floor
Freehold, NJ 07728
(732) 431-7490

Morris County
Urban League of Morris County Fair Housing and Assistance Program
300 Madison Avenue, Suite A
Morristown, NJ 07960-6116
(973) 539-2121
(973) 998-6520 (Fax)

The need for legal help

Proving housing discrimination can be difficult and complicated. You may need help from one of the fair housing groups listed above. You will also need a lawyer. The fair housing groups may be able to refer you to a lawyer. You can also call your Legal Services program for their help or a referral to a private attorney specializing in housing discrimination cases.

For information about citations, and how to get more information about a particular law, see Finding the Law in the Landlord Tenant section.

10/27/2011