By: Savannah Scarborough, Follow South Jersey Intern
SOUTH JERSEY – Housing providers throughout New Jersey are allegedly violating the state’s Fair Chance in Housing Act (FCHA). To combat this, Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin and the Division on Civil Rights (DCR) announced they had issued 59 Notices of Violation to individuals or entities in 40 municipalities across 16 counties for breaking FCHA laws.
In January 2022, FCHA went into effect to expand opportunities for people with criminal records to find safe, affordable housing. Housing is an important factor in racial inequality in New Jersey. In the past, eligibility rules have limited housing opportunities for individuals with criminal records, disproportionately affecting people of color. FCHA aims to address racial inequality in the state and create a more just system.
“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,” said Attorney General Platkin. “Taking action against these housing providers underscores that commitment.”
These people or entities broke FCHA laws by asking criminal-related questions on housing applications, posting housing advertisements, or maintaining housing policies that do not comply with FCHA.
The FCHA prohibits housing providers from asking applicants about their criminal history on an application or in an interview before making the applicant a conditional housing offer. Once the housing provider approves an applicant for housing and gives a conditional offer of housing, then they can conduct criminal background checks. However, in most cases, housing providers cannot deny housing to someone because they have a criminal record.
Under FCHA, housing providers are permitted to withdraw their offer to applicants based on their criminal history after considering the nature and severity of the offense(s), the applicant’s age at the time of the offense, how recent the offense committed was, and any information that the applicant provided in their favor.
Further, the law prohibits housing providers from stating they will not consider housing applicants with criminal records in any advertisement.
Specifically, among other things, the FCHA says that it is unlawful for a housing provider to consider: 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.
The Notices of Violation make housing providers aware that the DCR knows that they have either asked criminal history-related questions or have included an unlawful statement of eligibility criteria in housing advertising. Further, the Notices inform housing providers that DCR believes their actions violate the law. Additionally, they may face a first-offense civil penalty of up to $1,000, $5,000 for a second offense, and $10,000 for any further offenses.
Each Notice of Violation comes with a FCHA information packet that explains, in detail, the obligations that housing providers have under the law.
“As the first state law of its kind in the country, the Fair Chance in Housing Act provides landmark protections against housing discrimination,” said Sundeep Iyer, Director of the Division on Civil Rights. “It ensures that people with criminal histories have a fair shot at accessing safe, affordable housing in our state. The enforcement actions we are announcing today reflect our unwavering commitment to addressing housing discrimination across our State.”
Since January 2022, utilizing FCHA, DCR has resolved 62 FCHA enforcement actions it has brought against housing providers. In all resolutions between DCR and housing providers, individuals sign and agree to an Assurance of Voluntary Compliance with DCR that agrees to comply with the FCHA going forward, along with a payment made to DCR.
For more information about FCHA and how to file a complaint to DCR, visit https://www.njoag.gov/about/divisions-and-offices/division-on-civil-rights-home/fcha/.
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