Can a Landlord Consider My Criminal History When Deciding to Rent to Me in New Jersey?

  • Criminal Defense

Yes, landlords in New Jersey can consider your criminal history when deciding whether or not to rent to you. However, the Fair Chance in Housing Act passed in 2021 in the state puts limits on when and how these considerations can occur.

Find out when a landlord can ask about your criminal history and what type of information can inform their decision to make you an offer or not. Then find out how a criminal defense lawyer may be able to help.

Can a Landlord Ask About or Check Your Criminal History When You Apply for an Apartment?

In general, in New Jersey, landlords cannot consider your criminal history until they have provided a conditional offer. This means they can’t do a criminal background check as part of the initial application.

They can’t even ask about and consider your criminal history during the initial application process except to ask whether you have ever been convicted of manufacturing meth on a property associated with federally assisted housing or if you are a required lifetime registrant on any sexual offender list.

Can a Landlord Consider Your Criminal History Later in the Application Process?

Yes, once the landlord has given you a conditional offer, they can move on to considering additional factors, including criminal history. To do so, they must have told you during the initial application process that any conditional offer might be contingent upon a criminal background check. 

If you accept the conditional offer, understanding that the landlord could revoke it depending on other information, the landlord can run a background check or ask you questions about your criminal history. At this time, the landlord can only consider some types of criminal history when making a decision about whether or not they want to rent to you. The types of information that can be considered include convictions for:

  • Aggravated sexual assault
  • Sexual assault
  • Murder
  • Arson
  • Human trafficking
  • Kidnapping
  • Endangering the welfare of a child
  • Crimes that require registration on state sex offender databases for a lifetime
  • 1st-degree indictable offenses in the past six years (or release from prison after serving a sentence for such charges in the past six years)
  • 2nd-degree indictable offenses in the past four years (or release from prison after serving a sentence for such charges in the past four years)
  • 3rd-degree indictable offenses in the past four years (or release from prison after serving a sentence for such charges in the past four years)
  • 4th-degree indictable offenses in the past year (or release from prison after serving a sentence for such charges in the past year)

The landlord can’t withdraw the conditional approval for a lease simply because one of the above crimes is present on your record. Instead, they must conduct an assessment to determine if your criminal history presents a legitimate issue in renting to you. 

They must consider factors such as how long ago the crime was, what your age was when you committed the crime, whether the offense was connected to a previous property you rented, and the severity of the offense in question. The landlord must also consider whether such a crime, if it happened again, would pose any sort of threat to his or her property and any other tenants. 

Some Criminal Information Can Never Be Considered

Some types of criminal history information can never be used in making a decision whether or not to rent to someone in New Jersey. That includes charges that didn’t result in convictions, as these should not be held against someone. Any convictions that have been expunged, vacated, nullified, or erased by a pardon should also not be considered, and the same is true for records that were sealed and cases of juvenile delinquency.

Appealing a Landlord’s Decision

If the landlord decides not to rent to you after providing you with a conditional offer, they must notify you in writing. The Notice of Withdrawal must include the reasons the offer is being revoked.

After receiving such a notice, you can request, in writing, the records and other data that the landlord used to make their decision. They must provide it to you within 10 days. If you believe the landlord considered criminal information in a way that is unlawful under the Fair Chance in Housing Act, you can appeal the decision to the landlord and make a case for why their action is a violation of the FCHA.

If the landlord still refuses to rent to you and you believe your rights have been violated, you can file a complaint with the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights.

If you are worried about your ability to rent a house or apartment in New Jersey with a history of criminal charges or convictions, you may want to take a proactive approach. Working with a criminal law attorney to expunge your record may be helpful. Anything expunged can’t be considered by landlords in making rental decisions.

A criminal defense attorney can also help you seek the most positive outcome possible in any open criminal case. By doing so, you can protect your rights, freedom, and ability to rent in the future. If you’re facing criminal charges or want to expunge your record, contact The Hernandez Law Firm today to find out how we can help with your case.

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