The New Jersey Attorney General’s Office has issued about 100 violations to realtors and landlords who tried to block potential tenants because they were going to pay rent using government assistance.
It is illegal to discriminate against a potential renter based on the source of their income, but investigators found “many” online ads warning that Section 8, the State Rental Assistance Program, and other government assistance programs would be denied.
State officials said the conduct was especially egregious during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has produced record levels of unemployment in New Jersey and created an unprecedented need for financial help from the government.
“We’re going to have a whole new group of New Jerseyans seeking government assistance to pay their rent,” said Attorney General Gurbir Grewal in a video posted on Twitter. “Make no mistake, if you rely on government assistance for part or all of your rent, a housing provider cannot refuse to take it or turn you away.”
James Williams, director of racial justice policy at the nonprofit Fair Share Housing Center in Mt. Laurel, said the practice of dissuading people on government assistance from renting in a certain area prevents racial integration.
“If we deny Section 8 vouchers in certain areas to the population that utilizes said vouchers the most, which are people of color, you’re ultimately participating in segregation,” Williams said.
The violations were disclosed as part of an initiative in Grewal’s office called Project Home, which is part enforcement and part public awareness around issues of discrimination in housing.
According to a press release, the Division of Civil Rights settled many of the violations, and companies with recurring discriminatory posts made payments of up to $15,000 and adopted measures to ensure they followed the law in the future.
The state also said it was working with websites including Apartments.com, Zillow, and Trulia to help enhance their content-filtering systems to better weed out discriminatory language that discourages renters on government assistance from applying for housing.