LANDLORD-TENANT; DISCRIMINATION — A landlord may refuse to rent to a housing applicant, including a Section 8 recipient, based upon the applicant’s poor credit history.
A man who received Section 8 assistance submitted an application to rent a one bedroom apartment at a local apartment development. The development rejected the man’s application based on the man’s poor credit history. The man filed an action against the development under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD), asserting that the development discriminated against him based on the fact that he received Section 8 assistance. In support of his claim, the man argued that the development rented to two other Section 8 tenants with poor credit histories. In its defense, the development asserted that the other two tenants’ credit reports did not reveal prior eviction proceedings for nonpayment of rent as the man’s credit report had. The man moved for summary judgment based on NJLAD, which the lower court denied. The man appealed. On appeal, the man argued that the lower court erred by: 1) concluding that the development could reject his application based on creditworthiness; 2) not finding that the development used the man’s poor credit history as a pretext for discrimination; and 3) ruling that the development properly denied his application based on creditworthiness when a substantial portion of his rent was to be paid by government assistance.
The Appellate Division affirmed the lower court’s ruling. In reaching its decision, the Court analyzed the legislative intent behind NJLAD. It held that the statute was recently amended to prohibit the discrimination of prospective tenants based on income. It found that NJLAD did not apply in this particular case because the development rejected the man’s application based on his poor credit history, as opposed to his income. The Court rejected the man’s argument that NJLAD barred landlords from rejecting housing applicants based on creditworthiness. The Court found that there was no express language in NJLAD to support such an argument. It concluded that creditworthiness is a legitimate and nondiscriminatory factor that a landlord may use in evaluating all housing applications, including those submitted by recipients of Section 8 assistance.
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