McKnight Introduces Legislation to Crack Down on Unscrupulous Landlords of Subsidized Housing

Bill Would Stop Taxpayer Dollars from Going to Landlords Who Fail to Maintain Properties

Assemblywoman Angela McKnight has introduced legislation to establish greater government oversight for public housing in New Jersey and place additional requirements on landlords who receive rental subsidies to ensure compliance with housing code regulations.

“Too many residents of New Jersey live in publicly-subsidized, substandard rental housing that fails to meet minimum standards of safety and sanitation,” said McKnight (D-Hudson). “The fact that taxpayer dollars go to unscrupulous landlords who are not held accountable for the appalling, virtually unlivable conditions of their properties is an utter disgrace.”

The bill (A-5149) would establish the “Safe Sanitary Subsidized Rental Housing Bill of Rights.” The measure would help ensure that landlords responsible for deficient and dangerous rental housing do not benefit from taxpayer funds. The legislation stems from a recent investigative series on unsafe, unsanitary rental conditions paid for, in part, by taxpayer dollars while there is little to no accountability for the landlords.

Under the bill, instructions on how to file a tenant complaint with the Bureau of Housing Inspection in the Department of Community Affairs must be posted in every common area of a property containing units for which the landlord receives a rental subsidy. BHI would be required to inspect a property within 10 days of the court’s receipt of a tenant complaint regarding the property’s habitability, or within 24 hours if the complaint alleges a life-threatening violation.

A dwelling found to have any significant violations would be re-inspected within 30 days, or within 24 hours, if the violation is life-threatening, until every significant violation has been remedied. This would be followed by a follow-up inspection six months to one year after the re-inspection producing a satisfactory result.

If there is a significant housing code violation – such as the presence of vermin, the lack of heat, running water or sewage or structural deficiency – and the violation goes unrepaired, the state or the appropriate housing authority would be authorized to withhold any portion of the rental subsidy until a re-inspection determines every significant violation has been remedied.

“No family in New Jersey – regardless of their income level – should be living among rats and roaches and feel as though there’s no way to hold the landlord accountable, especially if that landlord is receiving taxpayer dollars,” said McKnight. “Establishing this inspection program will help ensure that if a tenant has a complaint about where he or she lives, there will be a prompt and adequate response.”

In addition to requiring inspection following a complaint, the bill would require inspection at least once every five years and within 10 days of receipt of a notice of a change of occupancy for a multiple dwelling located in a municipality that does not already have an ordinance requiring inspection upon a change of occupancy.

The measure also would add names and contact information – including two telephone numbers, a street address of residence and an active email address – for members, directors, officers, and registered agents of the entity that owns the property to the list of information required in order to register a rental property with either the municipal clerk or BHI. Failure to comply with this registration requirement would carry a penalty of up to $2,500.