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Cant's and Cans of Housing Discrimination in NJ

housing.pngPicture a family of five, a mother, father, and 3 children, attempting to find a place to live. They find an apartment that they would love to call home. The parents fill out the rental application and provide the necessary documents for approval. However, unbeknownst to them, the owner/landlord has a policy of not renting his apartments to families with children. He deems it an "unnecessary hassle."

So the application is denied is because of "familial status." Fortunately, this family can legally combat this discrimination under the New Jersey's Law Against Discrimination ("the LAD").

The LAD prohibits discrimination when selling or renting property. The law covers owners, agents, employees and brokers and makes it illegal to refuse to rent, show or sell property based on a person's race, creed, color, national origin, nationality, ancestry, marital status, domestic partnership or civil union status, familial status, affectional or sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, sex, or mental and physical disability, including AIDS and HIV-related illness.

There are certain circumstances when a landlord can discriminate on the basis of sex or familial status. They include when the property is planned exclusively for and occupied exclusively by individuals of one sex or when certain qualified housing developments are intended specifically for older persons, or for people with developmental disabilities, which may be allowed to exclude children. Otherwise, it's discrimination.

Stronger than its federal counterpart, The Fair Housing Act, the LAD prohibits discrimination in the housing based on one's source of lawful income, or a rent subsidy. These sources of lawful income range from child support, alimony, gifts from family members, to supplemental security income. This protection is especially important because landlords often use the excuse for denial that an applicant "can't afford" an apartment because they receive income from entitlement programs. It's important to note, though, that the LAD does not bar housing discrimination based on age.

If you have experienced discrimination in the housing context, it's important to contact a lawyer and learn about your rights and options under the LAD. Alternatively, you can file a complaint with the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights ("DCR"), who will investigate the case, and may even pursue it in court. On the other hand, New Jersey landlords, homeowners and real estate brokers should learn the law to see who they can and cannot rent or sell to. Omar Bareentto is a 2016 Rutgers School of Law graduate and a former contributor to the Rutgers Business Law Review. He collaborated with me on this blog.

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