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Equal Housing Opportunities through Fair Housing Laws

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 Fair Housing

The Law

The prohibition against housing discrimination assures all persons regardless of race, religion, color, national origin, ancestry, marital or familial status, sex, nationality or disability the right to live anywhere they wish, if they are qualified to purchase or rent the premises of their choice.


There are several laws that prohibit housing discrimination: the Civil Rights Act of 1866, the Federal Fair Housing Act of 1968,the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 and the State of New Jersey Law against Discrimination (N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 et. sec.).


The Federal Law

 The Federal Fair Housing Act (Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968) declared it a national policy to provide fair housing throughout the United States.  This law and subsequent amendments make discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status or disability illegal in connection with the sale or rental of most housing and any vacant land offered for any residential construction or use.


The Fair Housing Act provides protection against the following discriminatory acts:

  1. Refusing to sell, lease, or rent.
  2. Discrimination in terms or conditions of buying or renting housing.
  3. “Blockbusting” for profit: persuading owners to sell or rent housing by telling them that minority groups are moving into the neighborhood
  4. Denying that housing is available for inspection, sale, or rent when it is available.
  5. Denying or making terms or conditions for home loans by commercial lenders, i.e., banks, savings and loans, and insurance companies
  6. Denying to anyone the sale of or participation in any real estate services such as: broker’s organizations, multiple listing services, rental agencies, or other facilities related to the selling or renting of housing
  7. “Steering”: influencing the locational choice of purchase of a prospective buyer, i.e., offering advice on the racial composition of a neighborhood.  Showing whites homes in all white areas for racial reasons, while showing blacks homes in integrated or predominantly Black areas for racial reasons, is Steering, even though no racial terms are used.


The New Jersey Law

 New Jersey’s Civil Rights Law reiterates the Federal protections listed above, and includes additional ones.  Discrimination is also prohibited based on ancestry or marital status.  It is also unlawful to refuse to rent to a person because of objections to the person’s source of income, presuming of course, that it is legally obtained.


Housing discrimination laws affect everyone involved: the broker, agent, seller, buyer, tenant, landlord, and the owner.


Exceptions to the Law

Civil Rights Act of 1866

No exceptions: No discrimination allowed on the basis of race in any housing or real estate transaction


1968 Fair Housing Act

  1. If the Owner of a single family house wants to rent or sell a property, the property can be rented or sold to anyone of the owner’s choice provided: (a) discriminator advertising is not used, (b) a broker is not used, and (c) within a two year period the owner can only sell or rent one house in which the was the most recent resident.

  2. In owner-occupied multifamily dwellings of two to four families, the owner can rent according to the owner’s choice but discriminatory advertising is forbidden.

  3. A religious organization can sell or rent a dwelling to persons of their choice as long as the dwelling is not used for commercial purposes.

  4. There is no restriction on the rental of a unit in a dwelling or residential facility that is owned by a bona fide private institution; that is, a non-profit institution which receives no government aid.

    NJ Law Against Discrimination

  1. There is no exception on the rental of the second apartment in a two-family house, or a room, or rooms in a one-family house in which one of the apartments is occupied by the owner.  This exception does not apply if the house has now or was originally built or substantially improved with a government insured mortgage or other public funds.

  2. There is no prohibition against refusing to sell, rent, lease, assign, or sublease, or against advertising or recording a qualification as to sex for any type of unit in a dwelling or residential facility which is planned exclusively for, and occupied exclusively by, individuals of one sex to any individuals of the opposite sex on the basis of sex, i.e., dormitories, women’s homes, etc.

  3. There is no restriction on the rental of a unit in a dwelling or residential facility that is owned by a bona fide private institution; that is, a non-profit institution which receives no government aid.


Examples of Discrimination:

  1. If a Realtor inquires about the credit of a black prospective buyer and does not do the same for the white, the Realtor is violating the law.  Fair Housing Laws require that the same qualification process be used for all prospective buyers.

  2. A homeowner who does not want a Realtor or their agents to show their house to a minority group is in violation of Fair Housing Laws.

  3. A Realtor and their agents are in violation of Fair Housing Laws, if they initiate, either directly or indirectly, any discussion with a customer regarding his or her racial, ethnic, or religious preference – or the racial or religious mixture of any neighborhood or schools.

  4. Fair Housing Laws provide protection for the Realtor and prospective buyer if they are threatened during the process of showing a minority person a home.

  5. If a lender tells a prospective buyer that investment in a certain neighborhood is not good, the lender is violating Federal and State law and will be subjected to sanctions by Federal regulatory agencies.  If a seller loses a prospective buyer, the lender is responsible under Fair Housing Law.

  6. If the owner or operator of multifamily rental property refuses to rent a unit to a family with children, even though the same unit was made available to the same number of adults, he or she is violating the Fair Housing Act as amended in the Fair Housing Amendments of 1988



Community Development Office

Somerset County

27 Warren Street, P.O. Box 3000

Somerville, NJ 08876

(908) 541-5756




Complaints must be filed 180 days after the alleged act of discrimination.  At any time after 180 days from the filing of a complaint, you or your attorney may file a request with the Division to forward the case to the Office of Administrative Law for a public hearing, provided that the case has not been dismissed and the Director has not found that “No Probable Cause” exists.


When I file my complaint, what should I bring?

The following information must be provided when a complaint is filed.


  • Have the correct names, titles, addresses and telephone numbers of all persons alleged to have discriminated against you.

  • Bring any documentation that may support the allegations against you.

  • If possible, supply the correct names and addresses of any witnesses to the alleged act of discrimination.

  • Maintain information to support the damages you are seeking, i.e., wage statements, tax forms, proof of medical expenses, etc.


Where to file complaints…

New Jersey Division on Civil Rights

383 West State Street, Trenton, NJ 08618

(609) 292-4606


For information and referral for suspected cases of housing discrimination in Somerset County, contact:


Central Jersey Housing Resource Center

92 East Main St, Suite 407

Somerville, NJ 08876

(908) 446-0036


Legal referrals can be provided for low and moderate income persons