Paula Franzese, the Peter W. Rodino Professor of Law at Seton Hall University School, recently published research that examines the rights of tenants who live in substandard and often legally "uninhabitable" housing, offering recommendations to help rectify the legal disadvantages and unjust repercussions to tenants within the system.
When first released the report was widely covered by the media and was featured in The Star Ledger (as both an article and an op-ed), NJTV, NJ 101.5, and the National Housing Institute's Roof Lines.
Government officials in New Jersey took note and have now used Professor Franzese's research and recommendations to fashion new legislation to help affected tenants.
The article, "The Implied Warranty of Habitability Lives: Making Real the Promise of Landlord/Tenant Reform," examined more than 40,000 residential eviction proceedings for nonpayment of rent in Essex County in 2014. The study found that only 80 of more than 40,000 cases (less than 1%) had tenants asserting a breach of the implied warranty of habitability—an affirmative defense for nonpayment of rent available to tenants in substandard housing conditions such as lack of heat or hot water, mold or rodent infestations or other such breaches of a tenant's rights to a decent and "livable" apartment.
The study also noted that tenants who fight back in court against landlords become essentially "blacklisted" by other landlords through their inclusion on lists that are circulated among landlords and property managers; and that even landlords that are the subject of numerous housing code violations or documented accusations of such violations in these cases continue to receive the full amount of government subsidies for rental housing that is notably deficient or substandard, leaving no real financial incentives for landlords to make much needed repairs.
The study called upon New Jersey lawmakers to address these issues and to give tenants some much needed relief from nonresponsive landlords of substandard housing.
As noted above, legislators took note, and have introduced two new laws in New Jersey based upon Professor Franzese's report and its recommendations.
State Senator and former New Jersey Governor, Richard J. Codey, a co-sponsor of the legislation, said:
"Professor Franzese's research into landlord-tenant reform provides further insight into our country's long history of trying to fairly and equitably solve one of the most important and basic expectations that all our residents have - housing for their families. Professor Franzese's report and the recommendations that we have used to form the basis of the legislation I am sponsoring will directly impact the lives of residents in New Jersey and hopefully become a model elsewhere in the country."
With the introduction of this new legislation, media again has featured Professor Franzese and her work.
Professor Franzese's work was the subject of a feature Q & A with The Star Ledger, " How to stop slumlords from abusing poor tenants."
She was also featured on "All Things Considered" on NPR/BBC/WNYC Radio, " Why Tenants Lose When They Go Up Against Landlords in Newark."
"An Act concerning certain defenses to evictions from residential rental property and supplementing Title 2A of the New Jersey Statutes," which "Codifies and enhances the use of breach of implied warranty of habitability as defense to certain eviction actions."
(The legislation also affords judges the power of "suspending the payment of any State or federal housing subsidy… with regard to the residential property that is the subject of the action until remediation of any code violation or until further order of the court.")
"An Act concerning the confidentiality of court records of landlord-tenant actions, adverse actions on rental applications, and supplementing Title 2A of the New Jersey Statutes."
To read more about the research, co-authored with Abbot Gorin, a staff attorney with Essex-Newark Legal Services and Seton Hall Law student David Guzik, read "Research Shows Tenants Don't Know Their Rights."