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T.K. v. Landmark West

353 N.J. Super. 223, 802 A.2d 527 (App. Div. 2002)

LANDLORD-TENANT; SECTION 8— While a landlord can reject a Section 8 rental applicant because of a poor credit history, it cannot use that reason as a pretext to avoid accepting a Section 8 tenant.

A prospective tenant eligible for Section 8 rental assistance applied to rent an apartment. The application was denied on the basis that because she was unemployed and had an adverse credit report, she was not creditworthy. She then sued to compel the landlord to rent an apartment to her and to execute the Rental Assistance Program Section 8 contract. The lower court found that the landlord’s agent, “the person responsible for managing the apartment complex, provided ‘inconsistent and unsubstantiated reasons for not accepting plaintiff as a tenant,’ thus concluding that the [landlord] arbitrarily and unfairly rejected [the] application because of [the applicant’s] dependence upon government assistance, rather than her creditworthiness. Although New Jersey law makes it unlawful for a landlord to refuse to rent or lease an apartment to a person because of the source of any lawful income, it does not prohibit a landlord from refusing to rent an apartment based on the “creditworthiness” of the prospective tenant. On appeal, the landlord asserted that the lower court “trespassed” on its “business judgment by substituting [its] standards respecting creditworthiness for those used by [the landlord].” The Appellate Division rejected that argument, holding that the lower court found as a matter of fact that the application was rejected because of the applicant’s “economic status, including her unemployment, lack of sufficient income and her participation in the Section 8 program,” rather than her lack of creditworthiness.

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