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Finding of Probable Cause in Case of Alleged Housing Discrimination

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TRENTON – Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal and the Division on Civil Rights (DCR) announced today that the Division has issued a Finding of Probable Cause against a Morris County duplex owner for engaging in unlawful discrimination by refusing to accept a Black man’s rental application based on his race and by seeking to bar children from occupying the rental unit.

Download copyAdrienne Brown, the landlord, is accused of rejecting the rental application of prospective tenant Timothy Jenkins in December 2016 following a six-day series of email exchanges involving Brown, Brown’s real estate agent and would-be tenant Jenkins.

The emails involved negotiations over Jenkins’ prospective rental of a Morristown property owned by Brown. One of the sticking points was Jenkins’ refusal to sign a lease addendum which, among other terms, barred children from occupying the rental unit. Brown’s own agent told Brown she would not sign the addendum, which would violate New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (LAD) by seeking to bar children.

As the email discussions wore on, a DCR investigation showed, Brown made unsolicited references to the fact Jenkins is Black in three separate emails to her agent. In one of those emails, she appeared to blame the agent for the protracted nature of the talks. Specifically, Brown suggested that, because Jenkins is Black, the agent “may have been reluctant” to strike a strong negotiating posture with him “and thus we have both been exposed to an unwarranted delay and a good deal of back and forthing.”

Brown ultimately rented the property to two white applicants. She refused to be interviewed by DCR about the case.

”There’s no place for housing discrimination in New Jersey, based on race or on any other protected characteristic,” said Attorney General Grewal. “We are committed to rooting it out, whether that means educating first-time landlords on compliance with our anti-discrimination laws, taking on implicit bias, or eradicating redlining.”

“Race discrimination in housing, whether explicit or implicit, is illegal in New Jersey,” said Division on Civil Rights Director Rachel Wainer Apter. “A prospective tenant’s race is simply not relevant to a rental inquiry. It is also illegal to refuse to rent to a family with children, or to attempt to get a prospective tenant to sign an agreement that bars families with children. Landlords and real estate agents who would like further information on fair housing laws in New Jersey should contact our office.”

Issued in September of this year, the FPC against Brown notes Brown’s “decision to mention Complainant’s race in three separate emails to her agent, when race was in no way relevant to the transaction or mentioned by the agent, along with her decision to deny his application and rent to two white tenants instead, at least suggests that race could have been a motivating factor” in her decision. 

In addition, the FPC explains, Brown’s insistence on Jenkins signing a lease addendum barring children – referenced in multiple emails with her agent – represented a separate apparent violation of the LAD.

Brown also indicated in her emails that Jenkins’ refusal to sign the lease addendum excluding children was weighing against him in her consideration of his rental application. In a December 16, 2017 email to her agent, for example, Brown stated, “If he won’t sign the Addendum, as you mention today, it definitely is over.”

The FPC notes that, under the LAD, Brown’s holding against Jenkins his refusal to sign a lease addendum that was illegal because it sought to bar children was itself a violation of the law.

A Finding of Probable Cause does not resolve a civil rights complaint. Rather, it means the State has concluded its preliminary investigation and determined there is sufficient evidence to support a reasonable suspicion the LAD has been violated.

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