For further information, call Matt Shapiro at (201) 342-3775

New Jersey Tenants Organization Hails Victory for Tenants

NJTO Will Work To See New Anti-Discrimination Law Enforced

    The New Jersey Tenants Orgnaization (NJTO), the oldest and largest statewide tenants association in the nation, is praising the passage of a State law which strengthens penalties for landlords who discriminate against tenants receving Section 8 subsidy vouchers.

    "It's about time that this 20 year old law had some teeth in it, " says Matt Shapiro, President of the 33 year old tenant association.  "When we first got this law passed, we thought getting such civil rights legislation meant something.  In the past 20 years, we've received calls from of tenants who have continued to be victimized by landlords who use their Section 8 subsidies as a club to hold over their heads.  As late as last week, we were talking to people whose landlords retaliated against their good faith complaints with letters notifying them their subsidies would no longer be accepted.  Now that this new legislation has been enacted, we'll have something real to tell people.  Tenants will no longer have to live in fear of losing their subsidy at the landlord's whim."

    The bill (A-710/S-631), signed into law by Governor McGreevey on September 5, was sponsored by Assemblywoman Loretta Weinberg of Bergen County and by Senator Gary Furnar, who represents portions of Bergen, Essex and Passaic Counties.  Aside from restating the 20 year old prohibition against discrimination, the new legislation empowers Housing Authorities throughout the State to bring suit on behalf of tenants who are discriminated against in defiance of the law.  Fines for violations are set much higher than the old meager $200 to $500.  The prohibition has been upgraded by making it part of the Law Against Discrimination (LSD), which has fines ranging from $10,000 to $50,000.  The New Jersey Division of Civil Rights enforces LAD and will now set up a complaint procedure for tenants who have suffered discrimination because of their source of income at the hands of current landlords, prospective landlords, or real estate agents.  The new law also places similar penalties on discrimination against tenants with children under the age of 14.

    The NJTO worked together with the sponsors, the Anti-Poverty Network of New Jersey, and other groups to make sure that this legislation would become law as quickly as possible.  "Now that it is officially recognized once again that people have a right to housing no matter where their rent money comes from, we will do our part to make sure that county and municipal housing authorities know when there is a problem and what their responsibilities are.  They have the tools, and they have to use them," says Shapiro.

    Under the new law, not only are Housing Authorities empowered to sue on behalf of affected tenants, but they are required to have knowledgeable employees available during all normal business hours to assist tenants with these complaints.  The Attorney General is now required to prepare a statement notifying landlords that the LAD prohibits discrimination based on source of income, and providing instructions for reporting such discrimination to the Division of Civil Rights.  From now on, whenever a federal rental assistance voucher is issued to a tenant in New Jersey, a copy of this notification must also be given to the tenant.

    Given the new powers and responsibilities of the Division of Civil Rights, the Attorney General, and Housing Authorities throughtout the State, the NJTO is confident that this anti-discrimination law will be vigorously enforced.  Says Shapiro, "Landlords and real estate agents, take heed.  If you continue to discriminate against tenants because of the source of their income for rent payments, you will be severly punished.  You will end up paying very stiff fines and the legal expenses of the tenant, Housing Authority, or Division of Civil Rights, and you will be forced to accept all legal sources of rent payments.  It would be easier to just obey the law.  Plus, it would be morally right."