Law Professor Paula Franzese published a study which 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 (0.0002%) 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.
The research was featured in The Star Ledger (as both an article and an op-ed), NJTV and on NJ 101.5.The Star Ledger article notes:
Most tenants living without heat or hot water, with mold or rodent infestations, or in other substandard conditions are overwhelmingly unaware of their legal rights.
That's one of the conclusions of a Seton Hall University School of Law study, "The Implied Warranty of Habitability Lives: Making Real the Promise of Landlord/Tenant Reform," which will be published this month in the "Rutgers Law Review."The Star Ledger also notes that:
According to Paula Franzese, the Seton Hall law professor who co-authored the report with Abbot Gorin, a staff attorney with Essex-Newark Legal Services and Seton Hall law student David Guzik, there is no precise way to know exactly how many people in and around Newark are living in substandard conditions. But that, she said, is part of the problem that the study seeks to solve.
"Our difficulty (in finding information about the rental housing stock) is a testament to the lack of...access to hard and fast data," Franzese said.
The study calls for several changes, including the creation of a database to track the affordable housing stock and landlord violations. The study also calls for new policies that would cut violating landlords off from continuing to receive governmental rent subsidies, and put an end to "blacklisting" clients who have been late on rent payments in the past.On NJ 101.5, a leading talk radio station in New Jersey, Professor Franzese was interviewed for on-air broadcast that was then open to discussion for listeners throughout the state. An article about the research also appeared on the station's website.
The NJ 101.5 article notes of Professor Franzese:
She said under the law, the implicit promise in every lease in New Jersey is that "the leased premises will be inhabitable, meaning livable, meaning suitable for basic human dwelling."
What this means, said Franzese, is that "a tenant who is confronted with substandard premises has many opportunities available because of the legal system. Those include withholding rent until such time the landlord corrects the problem."
She said in most of the cases reviewed, tenants were improperly forced to vacant their apartments because they didn't understand their protections under the law, and never showed up in court to make their case.
"Plenty of tenants, many of whom are living hand to mouth, can't even afford the day off from work to appear in court and allow their voices to be heard," she said. "It tells us that the legal system is letting tenants down, it tells us that the organized bar needs to be doing so much more to provide effective assistance of counsel."Read and View More
Star Ledger op-ed by Paula Franzese, "Less than 1% of N.J. tenants know their rights. Fix it this way"
New Jersey 101.5 "Is Your Landlord Taking Advantage? Most NJ Renters Don't Know Their Rights."
A slightly more in-depth article appearing on the Seton Hall University website: "Research Shows Tenants Don't Know Their Rights"