– The Division on Civil Rights announced
today that it filed an amicus brief in the
Appellate Division on behalf of a woman who
sued a Mercer County apartment complex charging
unlawful source-of-income discrimination.
The woman, Denise Bell, is disabled, unemployed
and receives rental help through the New Jersey
State Rental Assistance Program. She sued
Tower Management Services, doing business
as Sunnybrae Apartments of Yardville, after
Sunnybrae denied her rental application because
she failed to meet the complex’s minimum
income threshold of $28,000 per year.
A recipient of federal Social Security disability
income as well as state rental assistance
aid, Bell maintained that Sunnybrae’s
strict income requirement violates the New
Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) because
it denies housing to tenants, like Bell, whose
incomes fall below the landlord’s threshold,
but who can afford their reduced rental obligations
once their state-provided rental vouchers
Superior Court judge dismissed Bell’s
lawsuit in 2008, finding that Sunnybrae’s
decision to deny Bell’s application
was lawful. The court also rejected Bell’s
claim that Sunnybrae’s minimum income
requirement had a disparate impact. Bell filed
an appeal with the Appellate Division in March
of this year.
Division on Civil Rights’ amicus brief
takes issue with the trial court ruling. The
brief charges that having an inflexible minimum
income requirement that fails to consider
state-provided rental vouchers in determining
an applicant’s ability to pay rent violates
the LAD’s source-of-income provision.
The brief also argues that Sunnybrae’s
policy has a disparate impact on voucher holders,
virtually all of whom would be excluded by
the income requirement.
The brief contends that, “A liberal
interpretation of the LAD dictates that, so
long as prospective tenants can demonstrate
that they have sufficient income to pay their
individual portions of the rent not covered
by their rental assistance vouchers, they
should not be held to an income standard that
bares no rational or reasonable relationship”
to their ability to pay.
brief asks the Appellate panel to determine
that “a landlord should only consider
a prospective tenant’s ability to pay
his or her personal rental obligation. For
example, if a rental voucher will cover 80
percent of a tenant’s rent, then the
tenant need only show sufficient income to
pay 20 percent of the rent.”
was no reason to deny (Denise Bell) the right
to rent an available apartment,” the
Division’s brief asserts, “since
she had sufficient income to meet her personal
rent obligation for that part of the rent
not covered by voucher payments.”
brief asks the Appellate panel to reverse
the trial court’s dismissal of Bell’s
lawsuit, and to remand the case for further
Bell originally applied for an apartment at
Sunnybrae in November 2005 and was rejected.
She then requested a waiver of Sunnybrae’s
minimum income requirement in December 2005
and that request was denied.
filed her discrimination lawsuit on April
17, 2007. A Superior Court judge issued an
oral opinion dismissing the complaint on December
12, 2008. Bell subsequently filed a motion
for reconsideration of the ruling, which the
judge denied on February 20 of this year.
Bell then filed her appeal with the Appellate
Division on March 24.
Deputy Attorney General Leland S. McGee and
Assistant Attorney General Andrea M. Silkowitz
are handling the Appellate Division amicus
brief on behalf of the Division on Civil Rights.