Sen. Cory Booker meets with housing advocates and tenants impacted by blacklisting and outlines efforts, alongside Seton Hall Law Professor Paula Franzese, to reform tenant screening practices.
Last fall Professor Paula Franzese, the Peter W. Rodino Professor of Law at Seton Hall University School of Law, published research that examined landlord/tenant practice under the current law in New Jersey.
Her article, "The Implied Warranty of Habitability Lives: Making Real the Promise of Landlord/Tenant Reform," was widely covered by media across the country, including the BBC, NPR’s “All Things Considered,” The Star Ledger (as both an article and an op-ed), NJTV, NJ 101.5, and the National Housing Institute's Roof Lines.
The article showed that tenants rarely used their rights to fight against landlords of substandard housing (the implied warranty of habitability is 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 research showed that in only 80 of more than 40,000 eviction cases did tenants assert this right— a right which, importantly, entitles tenants to withhold rent payments until such time as essential repairs are made).
The article also noted with some dismay that it may have discovered why so many aggrieved tenants were seemingly reluctant to assert their rights: “blacklisting.”
The study found 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 tenants who win their cases against landlords that are the subject of numerous housing code violations or have documented accusations of such violations, still wind up on these lists.
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. They did.
New Jersey 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 New Jersey 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."
Professor Franzese’s work and the New Jersey state legislation did become a model— for federal legislation that would help protect the rights of tenants all across the United States. U.S. Senator Cory Booker has sponsored a bill that would address “the chilling effect” of landlord blacklisting practices.
Senator Booker stated, “Under no circumstance should a tenant fear discrimination for simply standing up for their right to safe and sustainable housing,” said Sen. Booker, who worked for years in Newark providing tenants legal services to help improve living conditions. “As Professor Franzese’s study points out, tenant screening reports are being used as a means to target low-income tenants and prevent access to quality and affordable housing. This bill takes important steps to reform tenant screening practices by preventing landlords from unfairly penalizing tenants and providing tenants the necessary protections to ensure a fair and equitable screening process. I applaud Professor Franzese for shining a light on this injustice that has been impacting low-income tenants in New Jersey and across our nation for far too long.”
Read Senator Booker’s announcement of the new legislation to help protect tenants (including a quote from Professor Franzese), “Booker Meets with Housing Advocates and Tenants Impacted by Blacklisting, Outlines Efforts to Reform Tenant Screening Practices”
Read an article on the proposed legislation in NJ Spotlight, “Legislating Against Blacklisting to Help Tenants Find Better Housing”
Read an Op-ed on the proposed legislation by Paula Franzese in the Star Ledger, “Tenants shouldn't be 'blacklisted' for asserting their rights”
Prior to this latest round of proposed legislation, Professor Franzese's work was the subject of an in-depth feature Q & A with The Star Ledger, "How to stop slumlords from abusing poor tenants." It helps explain her work in further detail.
She was also featured on "All Things Considered" on NPR/BBC/WNYC Radio, "Why Tenants Lose When They Go Up Against Landlords in Newark."
And here is an article that also gives some further detail about Professor Franzese’s research as well as the New Jersey bills, “Law Professor’s Research Turned into Legislation, Featured by NPR, BBC and Star Ledger”