SENATE, No. 360

STATE OF NEW JERSEY

220th LEGISLATURE

PRE-FILED FOR INTRODUCTION IN THE 2022 SESSION

 


 

Sponsored by:

Senator† NIA H. GILL

District 34 (Essex and Passaic)

Senator† SANDRA B. CUNNINGHAM

District 31 (Hudson)

 

Co-Sponsored by:

Senators Ruiz, Pou and Stack

 

 

 

 

SYNOPSIS

†††† ďImmigrant Tenant Protection Act.Ē

 

CURRENT VERSION OF TEXT

†††† Introduced Pending Technical Review by Legislative Counsel.

††


An Act concerning the immigration status of residential tenants, supplementing chapter 42 of Title 2A of the New Jersey Statutes, and amending P.L.1970, c.210.

 

†††† Be It Enacted by the Senate and General Assembly of the State of New Jersey:

 

†††† 1.† (New section)† This act shall be known and may be cited as the ďImmigrant Tenant Protection Act.Ē

 

†††† 2.† (New section)† a.† (1)† A landlord shall not threaten to disclose, or actually disclose, information relating to the immigration or citizenship status of a tenant, occupant, or other person known to the landlord to be associated with a tenant or occupant, for the purpose of influencing the person to vacate a dwelling unit.

†††† (2)† A landlord shall not bring an action to recover possession of a dwelling unit based solely or partially on the immigration or citizenship status of a tenant.

†††† (3)† A landlord shall not cause a tenant or occupant to quit involuntarily, or bring an action to recover possession, because of the immigration or citizenship status of a tenant, occupant, or other person known to the landlord to be associated with a tenant or occupant, unless the landlordís action is in compliance with a legal obligation under a federal government program that provides for rent limitations or rental assistance to a qualified tenant.

†††† b.† If a landlord violates subsection a. of this section, a tenant may bring a civil action to seek one or more of the following remedies:

†††† (1)†† actual damages, as reasonably determined by the court, for injury or loss suffered;

†††† (2)†† a civil penalty in an amount not to exceed $2,000 for each violation, payable to the tenant;

†††† (3)†† reasonable attorneyís fees and court costs; and

†††† (4)†† other equitable relief as the court may deem appropriate and just.

†††† c.† The immigration or citizenship status of a person shall not be relevant to any issue of liability or remedy in a civil action involving a tenantís housing rights.† In proceedings or discovery undertaken in a civil action involving a tenantís housing rights, no inquiry shall be permitted into the tenantís immigration or citizenship status, unless:

†††† (1) the tenantís claims or defenses raised place a personís immigration or citizenship status directly in contention; or

†††† (2) †the person seeking to make the inquiry demonstrates by clear and convincing evidence that the inquiry is necessary in order to comply with federal law.

†††† d.† The assertion of an affirmative defense to an eviction action shall not constitute cause for discovery or other inquiry into a personís immigration or citizenship status.

†††† e.† As used in this section, ďimmigration or citizenship statusĒ includes a perception that a person has a particular immigration status or citizenship status, or that a person is associated with a person who has, or is perceived to have, a particular immigration status or citizenship status.

 

†††† 3.† (New section) †a.† It shall be an affirmative defense to an action for the removal of a tenant if the court finds that:

†††† (1)†† the landlordís demand for possession is based solely or partially on the citizenship or immigration status of the tenant; or

†††† (2)†† if the lease with the tenant has commenced and the tenant has taken possession, the landlordís demand for possession is based solely or partially on the tenantís failure to provide a social security number, information required to obtain a consumer credit report, or a form of identification deemed acceptable by the landlord.

†††† b.† In an unlawful detainer action, a tenant or occupant may raise, as an affirmative defense, that the landlord violated the provisions of P.L.††† , c.††† (C.††† ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill).

†††† c.† There shall be a rebuttable presumption that a tenant or occupant has established an affirmative defense under this section in an unlawful detainer action if the landlord did the following:

†††† (1)† approved the tenant or occupant to take possession of a unit before filing an unlawful detainer action; and

†††† (2)† included in the unlawful detainer action a claim based on one of the following:

†††† (a)† the failure of a previously approved tenant or occupant to provide a valid social security number;

†††† (b)† the failure of a previously approved tenant or occupant to provide information required to obtain a consumer credit report; or

†††† (c)† the failure of a previously approved tenant or occupant to provide a form of identification deemed acceptable by the landlord.

†††† d.† Nothing in this section shall be construed as prohibiting a landlord from:

†††† (1)† complying with a subpoena, warrant, court order, or legal obligation including, but not limited to, a legal obligation under a government program that provides for rent limitations or rental assistance to a qualified tenant;

†††† (2)† requesting information or documentation necessary to determine or verify the financial qualifications of a prospective tenant, or to determine or verify the identity of a prospective tenant or prospective occupant;

†††† (3)† notifying a tenant that the tenantís conduct violates the terms of a lease, rental agreement, rule, or regulation.

†††† e.†† This section shall not be construed as enlarging or diminishing a landlordís right to terminate a tenancy pursuant to State or local law.

†††† f.† This section shall not be construed as enlarging or diminishing the ability of a municipality to regulate or enforce a prohibition against a landlordís harassment of a tenant.

 

†††† 4.† Section 1 of P.L.1970, c.210 (C.2A:42-10.10) is amended to read as follows:

†††† 1.† No landlord of premises or units to which [this act] P.L.1970, c.210 (C.2A:42-10.10 et seq.) is applicable shall serve a notice to quit upon any tenant or institute any action against a tenant to recover possession of premises, whether by summary dispossess proceedings, civil action for the possession of land, or otherwise:

†††† a.† As a reprisal for the tenant's efforts to secure or enforce any rights under the lease or contract, or under the laws of the State of New Jersey or its governmental subdivisions, or of the United States; or

†††† b.† As a reprisal for the tenant's good faith complaint to a governmental authority of the landlord's alleged violation of any health or safety law, regulation, code or ordinance, or State law or regulation which has as its objective the regulation of premises used for dwelling purposes; or

†††† c.† (1)† As a reprisal for the tenant's being an organizer of, a member of, or involved in any activities of, any lawful organization; or

†††† (2)† As a reprisal for or on the basis of the tenantís immigration or citizenship status; or

†††† d.† On account of the tenant's failure or refusal to comply with the terms of the tenancy as altered by the landlord, if the landlord shall have altered substantially the terms of the tenancy as a reprisal for any actions of the tenant set forth in subsection a, b, and c of this section [1 of this act]. Substantial alteration shall include the refusal to renew a lease or to continue a tenancy of the tenant without cause.

†††† Under subsection b of this section the tenant shall originally bring his good faith complaint to the attention of the landlord or his agent and give the landlord a reasonable time to correct the violation before complaining to a governmental authority.

†††† A landlord shall be subject to a civil action by the tenant for damages and other appropriate relief, including injunctive and other equitable remedies, as may be determined by a court of competent jurisdiction in every case in which the landlord has violated the provisions of this section.

(cf: P.L.1970, c.210, s.1)

†††† 5.† This act shall take effect immediately.

 

 

STATEMENT

 

†††† This bill would add legal protections for tenants against landlords who might otherwise try to use immigration status as a way of intimidating tenants who have exercised, or who are about to exercise, their housing rights.† The bill would prohibit a landlord from evicting a tenant as a reprisal for or on the basis of the tenantís immigration or citizenship status.† Under the bill, the term ďimmigration or citizenship statusĒ would include a perception that a person has a particular immigration status or citizenship status, or that a person is associated with a person who has, or is perceived to have, a particular immigration status or citizenship status.

†††† The bill would prohibit a landlord from threatening to disclose, or actually disclosing, information relating to the immigration or citizenship status of a tenant, occupant, or other person known to the landlord to be associated with a tenant or occupant, for the purpose of influencing the person to vacate a dwelling unit.† Additionally, the bill would prohibit a landlord from bringing an action to recover possession of a dwelling unit based solely or partially on the immigration or citizenship status of a tenant.† The bill would also prohibit a landlord from bringing an action to recover possession, or otherwise causing a tenant or occupant to quit involuntarily, because of the immigration or citizenship status of a tenant, occupant, or other person known to the landlord to be associated with a tenant or occupant.† This prohibition would not apply if a landlordís action is in compliance with a legal obligation under a federal government program that provides for rent limitations or rental assistance to a qualified tenant.

†††† The bill would enable a tenant to bring an action seeking damages, penalties, court costs and attorneyís fees, and other equitable relief against a landlord that engages in prohibited conduct.

†††† The bill also provides that the immigration or citizenship status of a person is irrelevant to any issue of liability or remedy in a civil action involving a tenantís housing rights.† The bill would prohibit inquiry into a tenantís immigration or citizenship status in a civil action involving a tenantís housing rights, unless the tenant places a personís immigration or citizenship status directly in contention, or the person seeking to make the inquiry demonstrates by clear and convincing evidence that the inquiry is necessary in order to comply with federal law.† Under the bill, a tenantís assertion of an affirmative defense to an eviction action would not constitute cause for discovery or other inquiry into a personís immigration or citizenship status.

†††† The bill would establish an affirmative defense for a tenant to raise against an eviction action if the eviction action is commenced after the start of the lease term, and after the tenant has moved in, and if the action is based, in whole or in part, either on the citizenship or immigration status of the tenant, or on the tenantís failure to provide a social security number, credit information, or a form of identification acceptable to the landlord.

†††† The bill would establish an affirmative defense for a tenant against an unlawful detainer action if a tenant can prove that a landlord has violated provisions of this bill.† The bill would establish a rebuttable presumption that a tenant or occupant has an affirmative defense against an unlawful detainer action if the landlord:

        approved the tenant or occupant to take possession of a unit before filing an unlawful detainer action; and

        included in the unlawful detainer action a claim based on one of the following:

o   the failure of a previously approved tenant or occupant to provide a valid social security number;

o   the failure of a previously approved tenant or occupant to provide information required to obtain a consumer credit report; or

o   the failure of a previously approved tenant or occupant to provide a form of identification deemed acceptable by the landlord.

†††† The bill specifically provides that itís provisions do not prohibit a landlord from:

        complying with a subpoena, warrant, court order, or legal obligation including, but not limited to, a legal obligation under a government program that provides for rent limitations or rental assistance to a qualified tenant;

        requesting information or documentation necessary to determine or verify the financial qualifications of a prospective tenant, or to determine or verify the identity of a prospective tenant or prospective occupant;

        notifying a tenant that the tenantís conduct violates the terms of a lease, rental agreement, rule, or regulation.

†††† The bill does not enlarge or diminish a landlordís right to terminate a tenancy nor enlarge or diminish the ability of a municipality to regulate or enforce a prohibition against a landlordís harassment of a tenant.