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Franklin Tower One, L.L.C. v. N.M.

157 N.J. 602, 725 A.2d 1104 (1999)

LANDLORD-TENANT; RENTAL ASSISTANCE—Even if a landlord never previously accepted rental assistance payments for any tenant, it cannot refuse to continue leasing to a tenant that enters the Section 8 rental assistance program.

New Jersey has a statute that a landlord cannot refuse to rent or lease a house or apartment to another person because of the source of any lawful income received by that person or the source of any lawful rent payment to be made for the house or apartment. Thus, a landlord is prohibited from refusing to rent to a person solely because of that person’s lawful income from sources such as child support or governmental rental assistance. Section 8, established by the federal Housing and Community Development Act of 1974, is a rent assistance program where the tenant generally pays no more than thirty percent of household income toward the monthly rent. The balance is paid by a local housing authority to the owner. Under the program, a housing authority issued a section 8 voucher to a widow that could be redeemed by a landlord for a portion of the widow’s monthly rent. The widow was a pre-existing tenant of the landlord. When she took the voucher to the landlord, the landlord refused to accept it, claiming that it had never before participated in the Section 8 program nor any other federal or state rental assistance program. The landlord sought to evict the widow for non payment of rent. The lower court held that the landlord was not required to accept a Section 8 voucher and that the New Jersey law was preempted under the Supremacy Clause because it interfered with the voluntary nature of the federal Section 8 program. The Appellate Division reversed the decision of the lower court, holding that New Jersey law requires landlords to accept Section 8 vouchers. On further appeal, the New Jersey Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Appellate Division below. In doing so, it held that the New Jersey law did not stand as an obstacle to the accomplishment of the objectives of the Section 8 federal assistance program; rather, it advanced those goals. Thus, the statute is not preempted by federal law. As such, this is an extension of a case in which the Court previously had held that a landlord who had previously accepted other tenants’ Section 8 vouchers could not refuse to accept future Section 8 vouchers. In reaching its decision, the Court pointed out that because the widow was residing in the landlord’s building when she became eligible for Section 8 assistance, it did not need to decide whether a property owner who had never participated in a Section 8 assistance program would be required to accept an entirely new tenant who would be paying part of its rent with a rent voucher. However, it noted that the New Jersey protective legislation made no distinction between existing and prospective tenants.


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