Landlords in New Jersey will be barred from asking about criminal history on housing applications in most instances, according to legislation signed Friday by Gov. Phil Murphy.
Murphy said the legislation — known as the “Fair Chance in Housing Act” — affirms his commitment to take action to dismantle systemic racial disparities in New Jersey.
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Housing instability is a known driver of recidivism. The legislation aims to eliminate this barrier for those with criminal records and break an ongoing cycle exacerbated by previously existing policy. The Fair Chance at Housing Act will not apply in instances where federal law allows landlords to ask about certain criminal convictions.
“As we commemorate Juneteenth, we must commit to both remembering the past and continuing to take action to ensure communities of color, especially Black Americans, achieve the full equity they deserve,” Murphy said. “Today, I am proud to sign the Fair Chance in Housing Act into law and work to level what has been for too long an uneven playing field when it comes to access to housing. I thank the sponsors and advocates for their tireless commitment to making this bill a reality and ensuring that New Jersey is a fairer place to live.”
Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, who serves as commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs, said the legislation will have impact.
“Finding housing after being court-involved can be a daunting and often prohibitive process when it comes to securing a safe, decent and affordable place to live,” she said. “Fair access to housing is a fundamental right for all citizens. This bill will help to ensure that those who have been court-involved are permitted to move on with their lives and become law-abiding and productive members of society.”
The legislation was sponsored by state Sen. Troy Singleton (D-Moorestown), Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly (D-Paterson), Assemblywoman Verlina Reynolds-Jackson (D-Trenton) and Assemblywoman Angela McKnight (D-Jersey City).
“There is a staggering amount of data that shows difficulty in securing housing is a key obstacle to reducing recidivism,” Singleton said. “The Fair Chance in Housing Act will allow those who have paid their debt to society to move forward with their lives in a productive manner. Shelter is a basic human right, and our public policy decisions must recognize that. This new law helps to create a reparative culture that recognizes human worth, fairness under the law and restorative justice.”
The bill was applauded by Fair Share Housing Deputy Director Eric Dobson.
“With today’s action, Gov. Murphy has put New Jersey at the forefront of criminal justice reform by helping to dismantle the impacts of a criminal justice system plagued by systemic racism,” he said. “Every person in our state deserves a home. The Fair Chance in Housing Act sits at the intersection of housing, civil rights and criminal justice reform and will make it easier for returning citizens to rebuild their lives by removing discriminatory barriers to housing that drive up recidivism.”