The New Jersey rental application form is a document that prospective tenants complete to help the landlord or agent determine whether to enter a leasing agreement with the applicant. The information requested relates to rental history, eviction history, and financial information and is used for background screening purposes.
New Jersey Laws on Rental Application Fees
In New Jersey there is no limit or maximum rental application fee a landlord can charge a prospective tenant. It’s advised to not charge more than the average out-of-pocket expense, but ultimately the determination of the fee is at the sole discretion of the landlord.
If a prospective tenant’s application is approved, a landlord may charge a security deposit. According to New Jersey state law, landlords may charge no more than 1 and ½ month’s rent for a security deposit. If there is a rent increase between terms, the security deposit may also be increased, but by no more than 10% per year.
Additionally, for landlords with 10 or more rental units for rent, the money must be deposited in a variable rate interest-bearing bank account that is insured, or in an insured money market fund. For landlords leasing less than 10 units, the funds should be kept in an insured, interest-bearing bank account earning the institution’s standard interest rate.
There is no requirement for a New Jersey landlord to provide a receipt for the security deposit.
What New Jersey Rental Applications Can’t Ask About
Federal and state laws are in effect in New Jersey to protect potential renters from unfair discrimination during the application process. The Federal Fair Housing Act makes it illegal to discriminate against the following protected classes:
- National Origin (Nationality)
- Familial Status (Having or not having children)
- Disability (Physical or Mental)
Additionally, New Jersey state laws add additional protections for the following classes:
- Marital Status/ Civil Union Status/ Domestic Partner Status
- Affectional/Sexual Orientation
- HIV/AIDS Status
- Gender Identity/ Expression
- Source of Income (Public and/or Rental Assistance)
- Liability for service in the Armed Forces of the United States
As a result, asking about any of these items on a rental application form (and/or using them to base an application decision on) is illegal.
Exemptions from Fair Housing laws do exist. In New Jersey, the following exemptions are allowed:
- Familial Status – it is acceptable to ask about and base an application decision on if children will occupy the rented premises in any of the below cases:
- Two-family owner-occupied buildings.
- Rental of a room/rooms in a single-family unit occupied by the owner.
- Age – landlords may ask for an applicant’s age in the case of age-specific communities, such as senior housing or 55+ communities, due to the Housing for Older Persons exemption.
- Religious Organizations – religion can be used as a basis for giving preference to certain applicants for property that is owned, operated, supervised, or controlled by a religious organization that does not rent for commercial purposes. However, other protected classes may not be the basis for making a decision as a result of this exemption. 42 U.S. Code § 3607
- Owner Occupied Properties – if an owner lives in one of the units of a single-family property, it has 4 dwellings or less and the owner represents themselves during the leasing process, then they are exempt from abiding by FHA laws under the “Mrs. Murphy” exemption. However, race can never be a deciding factor (per the Civil Rights Act of 1866) and there cannot be any discriminatory advertisements to discourage applicants of a certain group.
- Private Clubs – private clubs that operate without public access or commercial intent may provide preferential treatment of applications for lodgings owned or operated by the club. 42 U.S. Code § 3607
Consent for Background Checks
Before a landlord can run a credit check based on the prospective tenant’s information on the submitted rental application, the Federal Credit Reporting Act requires that written consent must be given by the applicant. This written consent can be given via a statement of such and signature on the rental application form itself, or via a separate consent form (such as this one).
Processing a Rental Application
The next step in the tenant screening process is to use the information on the rental application form to conduct a background check:
- Credit Check – subject to the tenant’s written consent, a credit check will either provide a simpler “pass/fail” report, or a full credit report including the tenant’s credit score and information about their income, employment, past addresses, credit inquiries and more.
- Eviction Check – an eviction check aims to show the tenant’s history of eviction filings or judgments against them at any point in the last 7 years.
- Criminal History Check – a criminal history check aims to show any records involving the tenant in state court criminal records or in databases such as the national sex offender public registry.
New Jersey Eviction Record Search
Evictions in New Jersey are public record, which means they can be accessed by anyone. This includes third-party software that can provide full screenings, or landlords looking to complete a search on their own online.
To access the eviction records:
- Visit the New Jersey eCourts Civil Case Jacket.
- Complete the captcha to continue to the case search.
- Select the type of civil case from the dropdown menu at the top of the page.
- Select the “Search by Party Name” tab.
- Enter the applicant’s name into the appropriate fields, complete the required captcha again, and any cases involving the applicant will pop up.
- Select the docket number to view a summary of the case. Any documents available for viewing will be noted with a paperclip icon.
Adverse Action Notices
If you acquire a consumer report for an applicant (i.e., credit, eviction or criminal history) and take an “adverse action” against them such as any of the following:
- Rejecting the applicant
- Requiring a co-signer (when they didn’t include one before)
- Requiring a larger security deposit
- Requiring higher rent
Then you are legally required to provide the tenant with a notice letter that includes certain details, known as an “adverse action notice”. This is required even if the consumer report’s information wasn’t the primary reason for the action.
The notice must include details about the consumer reporting agency, an explanation that they didn’t take the adverse action themselves (and can’t explain why it was made) and a statement on the applicant’s right to a copy of the report and to dispute its contents within 60 days. Additionally, when rejecting an applicant, it’s recommended to specify the reason (but not legally required).
For an example, see this tenant rejection letter template.