It is now illegal for landlords in the state of New Jersey to inquire about criminal history in the early stages of a tenant application and screening process. The new rule – part of the Fair Chance in Housing Act, which has officially been the law in New Jersey since New Year’s Day, 2022 – gives leaseholders new rights regarding tenant background check processes and other parts of the pre-leasing screening process. Perhaps most crucially, the state of New Jersey is instructing tenants to report landlords who violate the new ban the box policy.
In recent years ban the box legislation has become common throughout the employment world. Laws or ordinances restrict what employers can ask about during an interview in many states, counties, cities, and other jurisdictions. Typically, these policies require employers to eliminate the “box,” or the part of job applications that asks candidates to check a box indicating if they’ve ever been convicted of a crime. Typically, ban the box policies also extend to the criminal background check part of the screening process, requiring employers to delay the background check until later in the hiring process. Usually, ban the box policies demand that an employer wait until after the first interview or after making a conditional offer of employment.
Similarly, the new Fair Chance in Housing Act in New Jersey requires landlords and property managers in the state to refrain from asking questions about criminal history until after a conditional offer. Said another way, landlords in New Jersey can’t ask questions about criminal history on job applications or in interviews and cannot activate a criminal background check process until they have extended an offer of housing to an applicant.
While the new law has been in effect for several months now, that doesn’t mean compliance is at 100 percent just yet. According to NorthJersey.com, criminal justice advocates throughout the state “are still hearing complaints that former inmates are facing discrimination when looking for housing.” The non-compliance issue has even prompted a coalition of advocates, calling themselves New Jersey Together, to seek preemptive steps from law enforcement that would help bring more landlords in line. Specifically, the New Jersey Together group wants the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office to “proactively scour property listings and file applications to make sure landlords aren’t illegally denying the formerly incarcerated [access to] housing.”
At this point, ex-offenders in New Jersey who have been denied housing this year in breach of the Fair Chance in Housing Act are urged to share information about their experiences with the Attorney General’s Office. Non-compliance with the new law can be reported to the attorney general’s Division on Civil Rights, which can be reached via email (FCHAinfo@njcivilrights.gov), online (at bias.njcivilrights.gov), or via telephone (833-653-2748).
Tenants should understand that the new law in New Jersey does not bar landlords from conducting criminal background check processes as part of the due diligence process. Property managers are still entitled to consider criminal history information and other background details as part of the housing application process. Provided landlords delay the tenant background check process until after making a conditional offer, they are allowed to consider many types of criminal history, including first-degree convictions from the past six years; second-degree or third-degree convictions from the past four years; fourth-degree convictions from the past year; and any convictions for murder, aggravated sexual assault, arson, human trafficking, kidnapping, sexual assault, endangering the welfare of a child, or any crime that requires lifetime sex offender registration.
About Michael Klazema The author
Michael Klazema is the lead author and editor for Dallas-based backgroundchecks.com with a focus on human resource and employment screening developments