Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal and the Division on Civil Rights (DCR) announced today two case settlements and a Finding of Probable Cause – all involving property owners or property managers who rejected potential tenants who were planning to pay their rent with federal Section 8 housing assistance.
New Jersey law prohibits discrimination in housing based on the source of lawful income that a tenant would use to pay rent. Landlords and property managers cannot refuse to rent units to potential tenants because they would pay with a Section 8 housing voucher or other public assistance, for example. It is also illegal to advertise that applicants relying on Section 8 assistance will be rejected.
In one of the settlements announced today, former Somerset County resident Nirav M. Patel has agreed to pay a woman $5,000 to resolve allegations that he reneged on considering her as a tenant after she sent him an e-mail asking if he accepted Section 8.
In a separate, unrelated case, Union County couple Marina and Yovana Ramirez have agreed to pay a woman $2,500 to resolve allegations they unlawfully dismissed her as a prospective tenant because she indicated her intention to pay with Section 8.
In a third case, the Division has issued a Finding of Probable Cause against Tower Management Service – manager of the Ivy Lane Apartments in Bergenfield — for allegedly turning away a potential tenant who sought to pay using Section 8. Tower Management is accused of wrongfully rejecting the would-be tenant for not meeting a minimum income requirement. In its Finding of Probable Cause, DCR notes that Tower did not apply the minimum income requirement in a way that recognized that the federal government would be paying most of his monthly rent through Section 8.
“Landlords, property owners, and real estate agents too often discriminate against renters who seek to pay for housing using vouchers or other public assistance,” Attorney General Grewal said. “Even worse, this kind of discrimination is common in neighborhoods with good schools, transportation, and jobs. As we work towards a stronger and fairer New Jersey, our Division on Civil Rights is focused on combatting discriminatory practices that can entrench segregated housing patterns and deprive New Jersey residents of opportunities for a better life.”
“Getting a Section 8 voucher can be incredibly difficult – waiting lists are often years long,” said DCR Director Rachel Wainer Apter. “Finding a landlord willing to accept one can be even harder, even though under the Law Against Discrimination, landlords cannot refuse to accept Section 8 or other forms of rental assistance. And minimum income requirements cannot be used as an end-run around the law. Landlords and realtors should know that we take discrimination against tenants with Section 8 or other forms of rental assistance seriously.”
The Patel case involves a single-family dwelling in Somerset, which was advertised on Zillow.com as available for rent. A prospective tenant saw Patel’s ad on the website, toured the property, and expressed interest in renting it. Patel advised the would-be tenant by e-mail that he would send her paperwork to begin the rental process. But when the woman asked if Patel accepted Section 8 housing vouchers, Patel responded that the property “is not a participant” in the Section 8 program.
Shortly thereafter, Patel’s on-line advertisement for the house was updated with the following disclaimer: “NOT participating in Section 8 program.”
In addition to paying the woman $5,000, Patel must also pay a $1,000 penalty to DCR and, going forward, refrain from posting any form of rental advertisement that states or implies a discriminatory restriction on applicants.
In the Ramirez case, property owners Marino and Yovana Ramirez advertised for a tenant to occupy the first-floor apartment of their two-family home in Elizabeth in April 2017. A prospective tenant subsequently visited the apartment and expressed interest in living there. When Yovana Ramirez asked the woman about her employment and ability to pay rent, she advised that she intended to pay using Section 8 assistance. At that point, the woman was told the apartment was not available to Section 8 users.
The penalties in the Ramirez case include $2,500 to the complainant and $1,000 to DCR. The respondents also must implement a non-discrimination policy.
In the Tower Management Services case, Tower Management was accused of unlawfully discriminating against an apartment-seeker by turning him away because he failed to meet a minimum annual income requirement for tenants at the Ivy Lane Apartments in Bergenfield.
DCR’s Finding of Probable Cause noted the prospective tenant would have been responsible for covering no more than $386 of his overall monthly rent of $995, while the balance would have been paid by the federal Section 8 program.
Despite that fact, the man was informed that he failed to meet the minimum annual income requirement at Ivy Lanes of $33,000, which was applied in full even to applicants who planned to pay the rent with a Section 8 voucher.
Enforcing a minimum income requirement in a way that does not take into account applicants’ Section 8 assistance can have the effect of unlawfully discriminating against recipients of public housing assistance.
The Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program is funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). It is designed to provide rental assistance to low income families, the elderly and the disabled.
Under Section 8, participants receive housing choice vouchers and then find their own available rental housing in the private market.
Participating families typically pay between 30 and 40 percent of their adjusted monthly income toward the rent. Section 8 pays the balance of the rent.
The original complaint against Tower Management Service, which is headquartered in Rivers Edge, was filed in April 2010. In December 2016 DCR, under a prior administration, issued a Finding of No Probable Cause. The case was subsequently appealed to the Superior Court’s Appellate Division, which remanded it to the Division on Civil Rights for reconsideration.
A Finding of Probable Cause does not resolve a civil rights complaint. Rather, it means the State has concluded its preliminary investigation and determined there is sufficient evidence to support a reasonable suspicion that New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (LAD) has been violated.