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Bill being Heard in Committee Signals the Wrong Way on Criminal Justice Reform

10 Dec 2015 6:34 AM | Anonymous
More than thirty organizations from across New Jersey have signed a letter to Senate president Steve Sweeney and Senate sponsors of S2951 to voice their opposition to S2951, a bill which would dramatically expand the powers of landlords to evict tenants. The bill is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee on December 10 at 11:00 AM. The bill has already passed in the Assembly.

Several opponents, including the Anti-Poverty Network of New Jersey, New Jersey Citizen Action, the New Jersey Tenants Organization, and the ACLU of New Jersey, will be testifying in opposition. Organizational signatories include the NAACP New Jersey State Conference, SEIU 32BJ, the Latino Action Network and the New Jersey Working Families Alliance.

“This legislation poses a very serious threat to the civil rights of low and middle income New Jerseyans  who may already be subject to harassment by landlords seeking to evict tenants in order to raise rents,” said Ari Rosmarin, Public Policy Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey. “At a time when our state has made important progress in moving away from devastating collateral consequences from our broken and bloated criminal justice system, this bill sends us decidedly backwards.”

S2951, if enacted, would permit landlords to move in Superior Court to evict tenants if the landlord proves that the tenant, an occupant, or a guest conducted “criminal activity” on the premises. S2951 includes a list of behavior under the definition of criminal activity that includes drug use and possession, and the vague “criminal nuisance.” S2951 does not require an individual to be convicted of - or even arrested for - a crime to be subject to eviction proceedings. The bill also permits eviction of a tenant family for non-criminal “dangerous” behavior by a tenant, occupant, or guest whether or not the tenant is aware of the behavior and without giving a warning notice.

"The incredibly broad scope of this legislation leaves too much room for unintended consequences,” said Serena Rice, Executive Director of the Anti-Poverty Network of New Jersey. “Housing is the cornerstone of economic and family stability, and we need to make sure that state policies don't leave innocent people vulnerable to the kind of destabilization that comes from eviction."

This broad scope provides the option for an overzealous landlord to use this provision to move for eviction of a family where a member of the family suffers from addiction to drugs, or a woman when her boyfriend engages in domestic violence. The dramatic scope of activity covered works in opposition to New Jersey’s efforts to move away from treating addiction as a crime and subjects some of our most vulnerable community members to eviction when they need stable housing the most.

"The bill is simply unfair and its enforcement is ripe for abuse,” said Ann Vardeman, Program Director at New Jersey Citizen Action. “Concerns about criminal activity in rental properties are no reason to dismantle tenants' basic rights.”

According to Matt Shapiro, president of the New Jersey Tenants Organization, S2951 guts protections for renters.

“This bill takes the most important tenants' rights law, the Eviction for Just Cause Law, and turns it on its head,” said Shapiro. “The eviction law was enacted in 1975 to prevent arbitrary evictions based on nothing more than the whim of the landlord.”

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