A new bill would make immigration status a protected class when renting a home. (Fran Baltzer for New Jersey Monitor)
State law prohibits discrimination against tenants’ race, creed, color, nationality, ancestry, marital or familial status, sexual orientation, sex, or disabilities.
But someone’s immigration status is not protected under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. Some legislators want to change that.
Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-Passaic) said he will introduce a bill when the Assembly meets again in the fall that would make immigration status a protected class when it comes to renting a home.
“It’s simply wrong the way the system currently exists, and the addition of that provision would make it better for everyone,” Schaer told the New Jersey Monitor.
The measure, known as the Immigrant Tenant Protection Act, would allow tenants being evicted based on their citizenship status to bring a civil action against their landlords. In court, tenants can recover damages, seek civil penalties up to $2,000 per violation, and sue for funds to cover legal costs.
Under the bill, the term “immigration or citizenship status” would include the perception that a tenant has a particular immigration or citizenship status. Landlords would be barred from disclosing — or threatening to disclose — a tenant’s immigration status to get them to vacate a home.
The bill would also seal the tenant’s immigration status during civil proceedings.
Schaer, who lives in the city of Passaic, a town where 75% of residents are Latino, said the bill has “nothing to do with the people I live next door to, but rather what kind of society I want my children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren to live in.”
New Jersey, a state of 9.3 million residents, is home to more than 460,000 undocumented immigrants.
The country’s fair housing laws protect all residents regardless of immigration status and say it is illegal for real estate agents or landlords to ask about citizenship due to how someone talks, looks, or dresses.
New York and Illinois have laws that prohibit landlords from harassing, threatening, evicting, or otherwise discriminating against tenants due to their immigration status.
Senators Nia Gill (D-Essex) and Sandra B. Cunningham (D-Hudson) are sponsoring the bill in the state Senate, which has yet to be heard in committee.
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