NJ DIVISION ON CIVIL RIGHTS RELEASES MODEL NOTICES FOR THE FAIR CHANCE IN HOUSING ACT
As you will recall, earlier this year, the New Jersey Legislature passed the Fair Chance in Housing Act (the “FCHA”), which was signed into law by Governor Murphy on Juneteenth. The law, among other things, overhauled the apartment application process and significantly restricts a landlord’s ability to weigh the criminal history of rental applicants. The passage of the FCHA has required many New Jersey landlords to overhaul their application procedures, and the way in which they run criminal background checks on prospective tenants.
Among the myriad of changes to the application process made by the FCHA are the requirements that landlords: inform applicants of the new procedures; provide otherwise acceptable applicants with “Conditional Offers” before performing criminal background checks; and provide applicants with notice and a chance to appeal following withdrawal of a Conditional Offer. To assist with these changes, paragraph 6 of the FCHA requires the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights (“DCR”) to develop certain model notices and disclosure statements.
The DCR recently released these sample notices, both of which are attached with this email. The Model Disclosure Statement provides a breakdown of the way the law works. Landlords who charge application fees are required to provide either a copy of the Model Disclosure Statement with the application or adapt its language into the application itself. Even those landlords who do not charge application fees should consider including a copy of the Model Disclosure Statement, or similar language, in their applications. The Model Withdrawal Notice contains sample language and landlord may wish to use when withdrawing a Conditional Offer, and provides applicants with the details necessary to appeal such a withdrawal. As with the Model Disclosure Statement, landlords may use the Model Withdrawal Notice provided by the DCR as-is or adapt its contents when creating their own materials.
Some important details have come to light as a result of the DCR’s release of these sample notices. Significantly, these documents set out a timeline for the appeals process. In the event a landlord withdraws an applicant’s Conditional Offer, the applicant has thirty (30) days to request from the landlord a copy of all information the landlord used to reach its decision (specifically, criminal records). If the applicant makes such a timely request, the landlord must provide a copy of said information and documentation within ten (10) days. Thereafter, the applicant has ten (10) days to appeal the withdrawal by providing evidence of any mitigating factors or rehabilitation. Finally, the landlord then has thirty (30) days to review the information provided by the applicant and issue a determination regarding its reconsideration. While portions of this timeline were already present in the text of the FCHA, the requirement that the landlord provide its final determination within thirty (30) days of the applicant’s appeal is new.
There has been significant confusion regarding on what date the FCHA takes effect. The text of the law itself has led some to interpret its start date as January 1, 2022, and others to interpret is as February 1, 2022. The Attorney General, though, recently released a letter to property owners, also enclosed with this email, which, among other things, outlined the law. Importantly, this letter states unambiguously that the FCHA is effective January 1, 2022.
This law has many moving parts and can be confusing to implement, even for experienced landlords. Because the Fair Chance Housing Act will change so much of the way the landlord-tenant business is currently performed in New Jersey, we recommend you develop new procedures to ensure you are in compliance. Please call us, and we can assist you by helping to develop new protocols or by scheduling a seminar for your staff.
The information in this Client Alert is provided solely for information purposes. It should not be construed as legal advice on any specific matter and is not intended to create an attorney-client relationship. The information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular circumstances. Each legal matter is unique, and prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.
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