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New Jersey Town Tries and Fails to Mandate Background Checks for Tenants

By Michael Klazema on 6/27/2018

Who is the new neighbor that just moved in to the rental next door? That question was at the heart of one recent attempt in New Jersey to institute stricter rules about investigating tenants before offering them a lease. The proposed ordinance appeared in the township of Brick, New Jersey, a community of about 75,000 people. Faced with community concerns about criminal activity by rental tenants, the mayor proposed a new ordinance to the Township Council that would shift more of the burden to the landlords.

The regulation in question would have required all landlords within the township's borders to conduct background checks on any tenants over the age of 18. This would include all individuals living in the property, even if they are not officially on the lease. According to the mayor, this would be to avoid allowing someone with a clean record to obtain a lease and afterward bringing in someone else with a record. This builds on previous efforts within Brick to control the rental community. A prior ordinance paved the way for holding landlords responsible for any criminal actions undertaken by their tenants. 

The township would also gain the power to shut down rentals where landlords do not conduct the checks on all residents and submit proof of the completed report to the town government. The proposed rules made no mention of denying occupants based on the results of the criminal report, but the conversation surrounding the issue featured that notion as a heavy implication. In fact, the mayor's comments that the policy was intended to "keep bad renters out" would ultimately contribute to the demise of the policy proposal

The mandated screening would have required searching a number of records, including convictions from the New Jersey Superior Court, plus municipal court records from the renter's previous address. The same type of information is available through a state background check from backgroundchecks.com. However, during the public comment period before the township council, commissioners ultimately decided to table the ordinance due to mounting concerns it would trigger discriminatory actions. 

The local NAACP's chair for housing concerns, Michael McNeil, spoke to the potential chilling effect on tenants with evictions in their record, and Fred Rush, chapter president, called further attention to the mayor's comments. Both expressed concern that the policy would disproportionately impact minority tenants. Even landlords joined the chorus against the ordinance, pointing out that even a background check could not always guarantee freedom from issues with tenants. 

For now, Brick will not move forward with this ordinance; the lack of a requirement does not mean such checks are illegal, however. So long as landlords avoid making discriminatory decisions, background checks can still help to enable informed choices during the screening process. By understanding what you can learn from a background check and staying abreast of legal non-discrimination requirements, landlords can look for tenants who are the best fit for their property and neighborhood. backgroundchecks.com provides a number of products, such as our county-level criminal search, that can equip landlords with the information they require.


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