A proposed ordinance that would require Brick Township landlords to perform background checks on tenants prompted opposition from some property owners, but also concern from two leaders of the NAACP.
After a lengthy public hearing, the township council voted unanimously to table the ordinance so more research into its legality could be conducted. The ordinance would have required landlords to conduct background checks on all persons who would reside in a rented home. The background check would include criminal cases in municipal and superior court as well as disputes in landlord-tenant court. Officials touted the proposal as a way to better police troubled rental properties. Earlier this year, a rented home in Brick was one of several properties raided as part of the largest drug bust in Ocean County history, and residents have occasionally raised concerns at meetings over problem rental units.
Mike McNeil, the state’s NAACP housing committee chairman, said he traveled to Brick after learning about the proposed ordinance in a news article. He warned that the proposal, regardless of its intent, could lead to discrimination.
“I want to make sure you understand what you’re doing,” McNeil told council members. “I see all the issues about housing, all the complaints in the neighborhoods, so I truly understand. But we need to have some conversations to clarify some things.”
The ordinance would only require that background checks be conducted. The township would not receive a copy of the report – only verification that one was conducted – and landlords would not have any restrictions when it comes to renting to tenants with criminal records. If a landlord fails to comply with the ordinance, they would face fines. On the third violation, their ability to rent their property would be immediately terminated for one year.
“We want the landlord to be responsible and do the due diligence on who he’s renting to,” said Councilman Paul Mummolo. “There’s no discrimination by any means, but we want to make sure they know who they’re renting to.”
Fred Rush, head of the NAACP’s Ocean County chapter, however, said minorities may not have had equal access to a proper defense in past criminal cases and could lose out on housing because of their socioeconomic background.
“It will become discriminatory because that’s what happens in America,” said Rush. “It’s the haves and the have-nots. As long as people don’t get hurt, it might not be the worst thing in the world, but it all depends on how it’s used.”
“I think it puts a lot on the landlord,” said Christopher Alino, who told the council he owns rental property in Brick. “The landlord doesn’t control everything. We’re already regulated a lot. No landlord wants a bad tenant, and everyone I know screens their tenants very well. Once you have a tenant, you’re stuck with them.”
The most powerful opposition to the ordinance came from Councilman Jim Fozman, who called it a “useless” law.
“We already have laws in place,” said Fozman, including a landlord responsibility ordinance. “We’re setting the town up for a discrimination lawsuit. That’s what’s going to happen here and that’s why the township should not pass this.”
Fozman said the measure would not stop problem tenants from renting homes in town.
“I have a renter next door,” he said. “The guy’s a sex offender and I couldn’t stop him.”
“We’re merely directing a landlord to conduct a background check for their own records,” said Township Attorney Scott W. Kenneally, but it was not enough to sway Fozman.
“We have the Blue HART program, people are addicted to heroin, and after we help them get better and come back they won’t be able to rent a house here,” he said.
The ordinance will now go back to a committee of council members who will review it and, potentially, propose a version with revisions. Officials did not venture to say when the matter might appear again on a council meeting agenda.