Landlords in New Jersey can no longer request to see a person’s criminal history on housing applications.
Democratic Governor Phil Murphy signed the Fair Chance in Housing Act into law on Friday during a ceremony commemorating Juneteenth, which President Biden made a federal holiday on Thursday. The holiday memorialises the emancipation of enslaved African Americans.
Mr Murphy said the bill was a measure to address one of many issues that have disproportionately affected minority populations.
“As we commemorate Juneteenth, we must commit to both remembering the past and continuing to take action to ensure communities of colour, especially Black Americans, achieve the full equity they deserve,” Mr Murphy said in a statement.
“Today, I am proud to sign the Fair Chance in Housing Act into law and work to level what has been for too long an uneven playing field when it comes to access to housing,” he added.
The legislation is also called “ban the box” by some advocates and ensures that landlords are only allowed to ask for personal information if the applicant is a registered sex offender or has been convicted of making meth in federally assisted housing.
New Jersey landlords will still be able to conduct a criminal background check after a conditional offer is made. First-degree crimes from the last six years can be considered, as well as second- or third-degree offences from the last four years, and fourth-degree crimes within the last year.
The office of the governor shared a statement by Eric Dobson, deputy director of the local nonprofit Fair Share Housing.
He said the governor, in signing the new law, had “put New Jersey at the forefront of criminal justice reform by helping to dismantle the impacts of a criminal justice system plagued by systemic racism”.
“Every person in our state deserves a home,” Mr Dobson added. “The Fair Chance in Housing Act sits at the intersection of housing, civil rights and criminal justice reform and will make it easier for returning citizens to rebuild their lives by removing discriminatory barriers to housing that drives up recidivism.”
According to NJ.com, 30 per cent of those released from prison in New Jersey are back behind bars within three years. The officer of the governor said instability in housing was “a known driver of recidivism”.
After Mr Biden made Juneteenth a federal holiday on Thursday, federal employees and businesses across the US observed the holiday on Friday, as 19 June fell on a Saturday this year.