Protecting Persons From Unlawful Housing Discrimination
Tuesday, January 22, 2013 • 8:22pm
New Jersey’s fair housing laws for persons with disabilities are among the strongest in the nation. The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD), N.J.S.A. 10:5-1, et seq., has been recognized as being one of the most powerful anti-discrimination statutes in the country. Another State act, the Uniform Construction Code Act [UCCA], also provides broad protection for persons with disabilities. The UCCA requires the NJ Dept. of Community Affairs to establish general construction standards for all types of buildings, including residential units. Among the most significant protections of this act is the mandate that the Dept. adopt a “barrier free subcode” to make sure that buildings are accessible to persons with physical disabilities. NJ’s Barrier-free Subcode [“Subcode:”] covers “[m]ulti-family residential buildings with four or more dwelling units in a single structure.” N.J.S.A. 52:27D-123b(5).
The Subcode requires architects and developers to make sure that all new housing construction includes accessible public spaces and routes of travel into the residential units. New housing construction must also have individual units that have adaptable elements, such as kitchen counters, sinks, and grab bars, that can be readily modified for individual needs. The Subcode also requires that local construction officials enforce it. The provisions of the LAD establish the right of persons with disabilities to sue when the Subcode is violated.
The Federal Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 (“FHAA”), 42 U.S.C. Sec. 3601 et. seq., provides protection against discrimination on the basis of disability in housing. The following discriminatory behaviors are unlawful under the FHAA:
• discrimination in the sale or rental of dwellings, or otherwise making unavailable or denying a dwelling;
• indicating that a dwelling is not available when the dwelling is, in fact, available;
• discrimination in the terms, conditions or privileges of the sale or rental of a dwelling;
• discrimination in the provision of services or facilities in connection with the rental or sale of a dwelling;
• prompting a person to sell or rent by indicating that a person with a disability is entering or will enter the neighborhood;
• publishing any notice, statement or advertisement with respect to the sale or rental of a dwelling that indicates any preference, limitation or discrimination;
• refusing to permit a person to make reasonable modifications to a dwelling where such modifications are necessary to afford that person full enjoyment of the premises;
• refusing to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices or services that would be necessary to afford a person with a disability equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling; and,
• a landlord or seller asking about a tenant’s or applicant’s disability, unless the landlord or seller is providing housing designed for occupancy by persons with disabilities or for persons with a particular type of disability, and the questions relate to that applicant’s eligibility for the housing.
The FHAA applies to all residential units in buildings with five or more units. The sale or rental of a single-family house is covered by the FHAA unless the owner owns less than four single-family dwellings, and does not advertise or use a broker to sell or rent the house.
NJ State law also prohibits housing discrimination on the basis of disability. The LAD; Municipal Land Use Law, N.J.S.A. 40:55D-66.1; Handicapped Access Law, N.J.S.A. 52:32-4, et seq.; and the Subcode, N.J.A.C. 5:23-7.1, et seq., all contain provisions that protect persons with disabilities against housing discrimination. These State laws are similar, but not identical, to the Federal FHAA. In some instances, NJ State law may cover housing units not reached by the FHAA, and/or bestows greater rights against discrimination than Federal law.
You can file a housing discrimination complaint with both Federal (Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)) and State (NJ Division on Civil Rights) agencies. You can also choose to file a State court action, rather than going through government agencies. To file with HUD, call 1-800-669-9777 or TTY: 1-800-927-9275 or visit the agency’s website for an online complaint form. You have one (1) year from the date of the act(s) of discrimination in which to file a complaint with HUD. You can reach the Division on Civil Rights by calling any of the following local offices: Trenton Regional Office, 609-292-4605, TTY: 609-292-1785; Newark Office, 973-648-2700, TTY: 973-648-4678; Camden Office, 856-614-2550, TTY: 609-441-3100; or Atlantic City Office, 609-441-3100, TTY: 609-441-7648. You only have one hundred and eighty (180) days from the date of the acts of discrimination in which to file a complaint with the NJ Division on Civil Rights. You can also retain an experienced disability discrimination attorney to represent you in Federal or State court. If you choose to exercise your right to a jury trial, you can file a court action within two (2) years from the date of the act(s) of discrimination in which to file the complaint.
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