Being convicted of a crime can have long-lasting effects on your life even after you've served your sentence or paid your fine. Having a criminal record can limit many opportunities, including your ability to get hired for many jobs or have safe, affordable housing for you and your family. Because most job or housing applications ask whether you have a record, you can be passed over for a job or denied a home or apartment because of your criminal past.
Just because you made a mistake doesn't mean you should be punished for it over and over again. If you have a criminal record or drug use history that is standing in the way of your ability to rent or purchase a home or apartment in New Jersey, getting your record expunged may help you move on with your life and find a better, safer place to live. Expungement can be a lengthy and complicated process. Before getting started, it's important to know your rights and whether you are eligible for expungement.
How Does a Criminal Record Impact Housing and Tenants' Rights?
Unfortunately, it is very common for people with criminal records to struggle to find suitable housing. It is also typical for landlords to have policies against renting to anyone with certain charges on their record. However, blanket policies barring anyone from renting based solely on their criminal history may be considered a violation of Department of Housing and Urban Development guidelines, as well as the Fair Housing Act. It is important to note, though, that the Fair Housing Act does not specifically protect individuals with criminal records from discrimination related to housing.
Additionally, the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination states that landlords cannot discriminate against renters based on “race, creed, color, national origin, ancestry, nationality, marital or domestic partnership or civil union status, sex, gender identity or expression, disability, affectional or sexual orientation, family status or source of lawful income or source of lawful rent payment.” That said, it is legal for landlords to deny someone housing if they believe their criminal record puts their neighbors and other tenants at risk.
This is problematic, as one in four Americans has a criminal record, and landlords have the ability to access these records with relative ease. When people with criminal records are routinely denied housing, this has the most significant impact on Black and Hispanic populations. Studies suggest a Black man has a 16.2 percent chance of going to prison during his lifetime, while for a Hispanic man, the chances are 9.4 percent. This is compared to 2.5 percent for whites.
How Does Expungement Work in New Jersey?
The New Jersey Criminal Code of Justice allows certain criminal offenses to be erased from your record. The hope behind this is that people who make mistakes when they are young, and pay the penalty, have the chance to move on in productive lives in their futures. Lawmakers believe certain individuals can be reformed and that having a criminal record makes their already difficult life worse.
Not all criminal convictions are eligible for expungement in New Jersey. Ineligible crimes include:
- Kidnapping and related offenses
- Sexual offenses
- Endangering the welfare of children
- Certain types of drug-related offenses
To have your record expunged, you'll need to locate all relevant records and then petition the court for expungement in the county where you were arrested. The process can be lengthy and complicated – as well as require significant amounts of paperwork and investigation. An experienced attorney can help with these time-consuming and often overwhelming procedures. Having legal representation also gives you the best shot at putting the past behind you.
Are You Eligible for Expungement in New Jersey?
The majority of indictable adult offenders are eligible for expungement after six years, assuming all conditions of the case were satisfied. To qualify, the individual must not have had subsequent criminal convictions or four or more disorderly person offenses or petty disorderly person offenses. Those wishing to apply may do so in the court where the conviction occurred.
Some individuals may be eligible for expungement when only five years have elapsed if all conditions of the conviction were satisfied. To qualify, the individual must not have had any subsequent convictions, including any disorderly person or petty disorderly person offenses. The decision to allow for expungement under these circumstances is based on the court's discretion.
Other individuals may also qualify for expungement, though this is based on the court's discretion and takes into account the severity of the offenses and other factors. If you have been convicted of a crime and you are uncertain whether you are eligible for expungement, it will be helpful to speak with an experienced attorney. Your housing and employment opportunities can increase dramatically after your record has been expunged, so this is certainly an option worth exploring.
Can Expungement Help Restore Your Rights as a Tenant?
Having your record expunged hides certain criminal convictions from the public, meaning they will not show up in most background checks. In many cases, this allows an individual to get on with their life without the specter of their criminal past hanging over them. Expungement can offer someone a new start and peace of mind, as well as the ability to pursue opportunities they could not have when they had a criminal record, such as renting a home or apartment in a safe, desirable location.
After having your record expunged, when you are asked if you've ever been convicted of a crime, you can legally say that you have not. Because applications for most homes and apartments include a criminal background check, having your criminal record erased from public view can be enormously helpful toward moving forward with your life.
Curious About Expungement? An Experienced Attorney Can Help
Working with an experienced attorney will drastically increase your chances of success when petitioning to have your criminal record expunged in the state of New Jersey. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm are here to help. To discuss the details of your case, contact the Lento Law Firm at (888) 535-3686.