Fair Housing Law
Q. May a landlord inquire about the income of a person with a disability when that person applies for an apartment?
A. Yes. A landlord may ask prospective tenants questions about their ability to pay the rent and their creditworthiness, regardless of disability, as long as they ask those questions of all prospective tenants. However, New Jersey law prohibits landlords from refusing to rent to tenants because they will pay their rent with Section 8 vouchers or any other legitimate source.
Q. If a person applies for an apartment in a building available only to people with disabilities, may the landlord ask about the person’s disability?
A. Yes. Although landlords are generally prohibited from asking such questions, if a building is available only to people with disabilities, or preferences are given to people with disabilities, the landlord may ask questions to determine whether the person is eligible to live in the building.
Q. Can a tenant with a disability be evicted for nonpayment of rent without any special warning?
A. Yes. Tenants with disabilities have no special protections from eviction unless the reason for eviction is conversion of an apartment building into a condominium. As with all other New Jersey tenants, a tenant with a disability can be evicted only for “good cause,” which includes nonpayment of rent. Tenants cannot be summarily ejected from the apartment, but must be served with a summons and complaint and have an opportunity to appear before a judge on the matter. Tenants with disabilities whoa re being evicted due to condominium conversion can request “protected tenancy” status of up to 40 years if they have lived in their apartment for at least one year and are low-income.
Q. Must a condominium association grant a unit owner with a disability a reserved parking space near his or her unit?
A. Yes, if that owner has a physical disability and requests the reserved space as a reasonable accommodation. A condominium association or landlord can refuse to make an accommodation if it would be unduly burdensome or if it would fundamentally alter its policies, but in the case of a reserved parking space it is un likely that either of these defenses would be considered valid.
Q. May a landlord charge an extra fee to a tenant with a disability who keeps a service animal?
A. No. A landlord may not charge a tenant with a disability an extra fee for keeping a pet who is a service animal (e.g., a guide dog for the blind or a cat who provides emotional support to a person with mental illness).
Q. Must a tenant with a physical disability who renovates the interior of an apartment restore the interior to its prior condition when he or she vacates the apartment?
A. Yes, unless the renovation would not interfere with the landlord’s or the next tenant’s use of the unit. For example, the widening of a doorway to accommodate a wheelchair would not interfere with a future tenant’s use of the apartment, so the landlord may not require that the tenant narrow the doorway at the end of the tenancy.
Q. May a landlord require that a tenant who removed a barrier on the common grounds of an apartment complex restore the grounds to their original condition?
A. No. If a tenant has a ramp constructed where steps previously had created a barrier, the landlord cannot require that the tenant restore the steps when he ro she moves away. However, the tenant must bear the cost of the original renovations, unless the architectural barriers were built after the laws prohibiting them went into effect. In that case, the landlord would have to pay for the renovations.
Q. How do I file a complaint?
A. You can call the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development at 1-800-669-9777 or file a complaint online at www.hud.gov. You can also file a complaint with the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights: 609-292-4605 (Trenton), 973-648-2700 (Newark), 856-614-2550 (Camden), 973-977-4500 (Paterson), and 609-441-3100 (Atlantic City).
Americans with Disabilities Act
Q. Who must comply with the ADA?
A. Title I of the ADA applies to private employers. Title II of the ADA applies to public entities, such as state or local governments; departments, agencies, or other instrumentalities of a state or local government; and certain commuter authorities and AMTRAK. Title III of the ADA applies to public accommodations, such as hotels, restaurants, theaters, stores, banks, college, museums, libraries, parks, zoos, amusements parks, doctor’s offices, health clubs, and golf courses.
Q. Can an employer require a job applicant to take a medical examination?
A. An employer may not require a job applicant to take a medical examination before making a job offer, but it may condition a job offer on the satisfactory result of a post-offer medical examination if that is required of all new employees in the same job category. If an applicant is not hired because the post-offer examination reveals a disability, the reason for not hiring must be job-related and based on business necessity; the employer must show that no reasonable accommodation was available or a reasonable accommodation would have imposed undue hardship; or that the applicant would have posed a direct threat in the workplace that couldn’t be eliminated through reasonable accommodation.
Q. Does a public entity have to make all of its buildings accessible to people with physical disabilities?
A. No. The ADA prohibits public entities from excluding people with disabilities from their services, programs, and activities. To make a public entity’s programs accessible does not necessarily require making its facilities accessible. For example, a program administered in an inaccessible building can be moved to an accessible building. However, all buildings constructed by a public entity after January 26, 1992, must be accessible.
Q. Must public accommodations such as restaurants remove all barriers?
A. No. Barriers must be removed if “readily achievable” (easily accomplished and able to be carried out without much difficulty or expense). For example, designating accessible parking spaces, ramping a few steps, widening an entrance door for wheelchair users, rearranging shelves and racks, replacing door knobs with levers might be considered readily achievable barrier removal.
Q. I own a store that is, for the most part, inaccessible. What should I do?
A. Under the ADA, the first priority is an accessible path of travel from the sidewalk or parking lot to the business and its entrance. The second priority is access to goods and services, the third is accessible bathrooms, and the fourth is other amenities available to the public, such as telephone booths and drinking fountains.
Q. What kinds of auxiliary aids and services are required to ensure effective communication with people who have hearing or vision impairments?
A. Qualified interpreters, assistive listening devices, note takers, and written materials may be reasonable accommodations for people with hearing impairments. Qualified readers, taped texts, brailled or large print materials may be reasonable accommodations for people with vision impairments. But the ADA does not require that a proprietor offer an auxiliary aid that would be an undue burden or a fundamental alteration in the nature of the goods or services provided by the public accommodation. For example, restaurants don’t have to have brailled menus if waiters will read the menu to a blind customer. A bookstore does not have to have a sign language interpreter on staff if employees can communicate with deaf customers by pen and notepad.
Q. How do I file a complaint about an ADA violation?
A. You should file a complaint with the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights in the Attorney General’s office within 180 days of the act of discrimination. You can call 609-292-4605 or find your regional DCR office online at www.state.nj.us/lps/dcr. You can also obtain information about filing an ADA complaint by calling the U.S. Department of Justice’s ADA Information line at 1-800-514-0301 or by going online at www.ada.gov.
Health Insurance Law
Q. If I have Medicare and Medicaid, do I have to enroll in a Medicaid HMO?
A. No. You may voluntarily choose to enroll in a Medicaid HMO, but under federal law, enrollment in an HMO is not mandatory for Medicare beneficiaries.
Q. If I enroll in an HMO in New Jersey, but spend winters in Florida, will my medical treatment in Florida be covered by the HMO?
A. Probably not, except for emergency room treatment. Most HMOs serve only a specific geographic area and have provider networks in only that area.
Q. I just retired and have a retiree health benefits plan. I also enrolled in Medicare. Which is my primary insurer and which is my secondary insurer? Do I have to tell anyone about my retirement?
A. For those who retire after they reach 65 Medicare is primary and an employer-sponsored plan is secondary. But you should contact the Social Security Administration or Medicare (1-800-MEDICARE) and tell them that you’ve retired, so their coordination of benefits contractor can update its files.
Q. If I go into the emergency room thinking I’m having a heart attack and it turns out that I just had a bad case of indigestion, will my HMO cover the visit and the diagnostic tests performed in the emergency room?
A. HMOs must cover the treatment if a “prudent layperson” would have thought that he or she needed immediate treatment; e.g., profuse bleeding, severe chest pain, possible broken bone.
Q. Who do I complain to if my HMO denies coverage for treatment?
A. HMOs have internal grievance and appeals processes. If the HMO is an insurance plan rather than a self-funded employee welfare plan, the internal appeals decision can also be reviewed by an external review organization. The NJ Department of Banking and Insurance (1-888-393-1062) administers the external review process. It also takes complaints against insurance companies. Complaints about self-funded group health plans covered under ERISA can be made to the U.S. Department of Labor (1-866-275-7922). Complaints about Medicaid can be made to the Medicaid Hotline (1-800-356-1561).
Q. How many accessible parking spaces are required in parking lots?
A. The number of accessible spaces depends on the total number of spaces in a parking lot or garage. Both the New Jersey Barrier Free Subcode and the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines require the following number of accessible spaces: if there are 1-25 spaces, 1 space must be accessible; 26-50 spaces, 2 spaces must be accessible; 51-75, 3 spaces; 76-100, 4 spaces; 101-150, 5 spaces; 151-200, 6 spaces; 201--300, 7 spaces; 301-400, 8 spaces; 401-500, 9 spaces; 501-1,000, 2% of the total spaces must be accessible; and over 1,000, 20 + 1 for each 100 spaces over 1,000.
Q. What size must the accessible parking spaces be?
A. The spaces must be at least 8 feet wide with an adjacent striped access aisle that is at least 5 feet wide. Each parking lot must have at least 1 van-accessible space, which requires an 8-foot-wide access aisle.
Q. Who has responsibility for clearing snow and ice from accessible spaces?
A. Store and other business owners must remove ice and snow from accessible spaces and adjacent curb cuts within 48 hours after the weather condition ends. There are state fines for noncompliance.
Q. Who do I complain to if I find a violation of handicapped parking laws?
A. Ask a law enforcement officer to ticket a car that is illegally parked in a handicapped parking space or complain to the store manager and ask him/her to report the violation to law enforcement officers.