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New Jersey Attorney General Peter Harvey last Monday announced the initiation of suits against owners or managers of four apartment complexes for illegally refusing to rent or show housing to potential tenants who receive federal rental assistance vouchers. The defendants, from Atlantic, Essex, Hunterdon and Passaic counties, are charged with violating the Law Against Discrimination’s 2002 amendment that prohibits housing discrimination based on “source of lawful income used for rental or mortgage payments,” N.J.S.A. 10:5-12. Harvey and Civil Rights Division Director J. Frank Vespa-Papaleo published a memorandum in May reminding real estate agents, brokers and property owners about the LAD amendment. They also pointed out that it includes vouchers issued under the federal Section 8 Rental Assistance Program, administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The vouchers, redeemed by local housing agencies under contract with HUD, help low-income families make their rent. The target of the Essex County suit is Garden State Realty, manager of an apartment complex on South Harrison Street in East Orange. The complaint alleges that Garden State employees told “testers” — clandestine investigators employed by the Division on Civil Rights — that Section 8 applicants would not be accepted as tenants. The testers allegedly received similar information from Irvington’s 599 Broadway Management LLC, the owner of the Broadway Towers apartments in Paterson, and from Fort Lee’s Clinton Manor Associates LLC, the owner of the Clinton Manor complex in Clinton. Another complaint charges that a leasing agent at Atlantic Coast Realty Inc. of Brigantine told testers that none of her landlords accepted Section 8 tenants. The complaints ask for compensatory and punitive damages, attorney fees and orders enjoining the defendants from continued refusals. The division also asks that the defendants be required to undertake training in anti-discrimination laws, that their rental practices and policies be monitored for two years and that they be ordered to advertise in local newspapers that their apartments are available to Section 8 voucher recipients. Representatives from the four defendants did not respond to requests for comment last week.

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