‘Do you have a criminal record?’: NJ landlords may soon be banned from asking

New Jersey

NEW JERSEY — Do you have a criminal record?

It’s the one inquiry that has blocked many from obtaining housing in New Jersey. 

Now new legislation is putting landlords on notice, aiming to level the playing field.

“She had a conviction over 20 years ago and she is still fighting to get housing today from a single drug offense,” James Williams, Director of racial justice policy at Fair Share Housing Center, said, describing the story of a mother struggling to find housing.

The stories run the gamut according to Williams.

His advocacy group has long highlighted the housing inequities that run rampant in Black and brown communities where a criminal record has upended a would-be tenant’s chances of obtaining housing.

“Having access to housing, reducing the barriers really goes along way to bettering our communities,” he said.

Reducing those roadblocks is at the heart of a landmark bill recently approved by the state legislature. 

The Fair Chance In Housing act will bar landlords from asking about criminal convictions on renting applications — a tool historically used to gauge an applicant. 

Under the bill, landlords who violate the rule could be fined up to $10,000.

While it does limit their use of background check, landlords can still ask about criminal records if an applicant is a registered sex offender or was convicted for making meth.

Other criteria will still be on the table assisting landlords with the application process, according to New Jersey based realtor Effie Drimonis.

“They will still have references from friends and employers to their disposal, so those are just as valuable,” she told PIX11 News.

The bill, which was overwhelmingly passed in the state legislature, now heads to Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk, where he is expected to sign it into law.

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