Division on Civil Rights Issues “Cease and Desist” Letters to Housing Advertisers over Discriminatory Craigslist Ads

Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino and the Division on Civil Rights announced today that the Division has issued a warning letter to approximately 30 property managers and landlords cautioning that they could face enforcement action and financial penalties for placing housing ads on Craigslist that seek to discourage applicants paying with federal Section 8 assistance vouchers.

Mailed today, the Division’s warning letter urges recipients to “immediately cease and desist” from such discriminatory advertising practices. The letter is accompanied in each case by copies of the actual, unlawful ad posted on the Craigslist website on behalf of the property manager or landlord. Typically, the offending ads contain language such as “no Section 8.”

In a related move Craigslist — at the Division’s prompting — has modified the fair-housing disclaimer on its website by providing users with more complete information on what is prohibited under New Jersey law. Specifically, the disclaimer now makes clear that denial of housing based on an applicant’s source of lawful income is illegal in New Jersey.

“Otherwise eligible renters and buyers who pay for their housing with the help of government assistance are not second class citizens. Like anyone else, they have a right to live where they choose and to be treated equally — as long as they are paying with a lawful source of income,” said Attorney General Porrino. “The issue really is that simple. Absolute equality in housing is the law here in New Jersey, and we will hold accountable any landlord or property seller who fails to honor it.”

“Simply put, it’s illegal to reject housing applicants solely because they rely on government assistance to help make ends meet, and it’s against the law to post an advertisement saying you intend to do so,” said Division Director Craig T. Sashihara. “If someone can afford to pay the rent, his or her reliance on Section 8 vouchers or other government subsidies should not be relevant in any way. Landlords and sellers who insist on denying housing to such applicants – or who discourage them from applying through their advertising — do so at their own risk.”

The Division letter mailed to renters and sellers today refers to the requirements of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) and reads, in part, as follows:

“Our preliminary review of the attached advertisement from Craigslist indicates that you are in violation of the LAD based on your assertion that applicants who rely on Section 8 housing vouchers will not be accepted. Because a state or federally issued housing voucher qualifies as ‘source of lawful income,” a landlord’s refusal to rent to persons with Section 8 housing vouchers is unlawful.”

In addition, the letter warns that, “Posting an advertisement that announces unlawful criteria is a separate violation of the LAD. Accordingly, we ask that you immediately cease and desist from such practices or be subject to possible enforcement action.”

Signed by Elizabeth Russian, Regional Manager of the Division’s Housing Investigations Unit, the letter reminds recipients that a first-time violation of the LAD carries a maximum penalty of $10,000, a second offense within five years carries a maximum penalty of $25,000, and a third offense carries a maximum penalty of $50,000.

Recipients of the letter are being asked to fill out and sign a written certification indicating they understand the law, acknowledging they’ve previously placed an ad that discriminated against government-subsidized renters, and promising to no longer engage in such conduct.

In addition to now mentioning the State’s prohibition on discrimination against federal Section 8 assistance, Craigslist’s own revised website disclaimer now also includes specific mention of State prohibitions against discrimination on the basis of gender identify or expression and pregnancy.

Division on Civil Rights Investigators Charles Washington and David Corcione handled the fair housing notification effort on behalf of the State.

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  1. Maybe, instead of sending out violation letters the state such make it easier for landlords to accept section 8 vouchers, by remove all the regulations, inspections, paperwork, etc.

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