N.J.: ‘Dwelling units’ would be required to have renters insurance if new bill becomes law

August 14, 2023

New Jersey Assemblymember William B. Sampson IV, D-31, introduced A-5696 on May 18, 2023. This bill would require renters insurance for individuals entering or renewing a lease for a dwelling unit.

The legislation defines dwelling unit as any room, or group of rooms, or any part thereof located within a building and forming a single habitable unit with facilities which are used, or designed to be used for living, sleeping, cooking, and eating.

That crystal clear definition means that the legislation would apply to multi-unit dwellings not single-family homes. Currently, in New Jersey renters insurance is optional, however many landlords require their tenants to obtain it prior to moving into the building.

Unlike the optionality of renters insurance, landlords are required by law to maintain their own landlord insurance on property they rent to tenants. This means that the building itself is insured and should something occur to the structure as the result of a covered peril, the building owner or landlord would be entitled to file a claim. However, the landlord’s insurance does not extend to the renter and does not protect the renter’s personal items. 

According to the U.S. Census, an estimated 9 million people live in New Jersey. Approximately 36% of those residents are renters.[1] In Newark, the state’s most populated city, 80% of the residents live in rented properties, compared to the cities of Elizabeth and Patterson, where a respective 75% of the population are also renters.[2] Between the optionality of renters insurance and the sheer volume of people residing in these densely populated cities, it makes you wonder, without a mandate in place, how many people currently maintain renters insurance in the Garden State and how this bill would impact those statistics?

Setting a possible precedent?

Despite the absence of a Senate sponsor, the introduction of A-5696 demonstrates an approach geared toward ensuring that renters acquire renters insurance to help protect their personal belongings and sense of well-being. Currently, there is no federal or state law in the country requiring compulsory renters insurance. If A-5696 were to become law, New Jersey could become the first state in the nation to codify renters insurance as a prerequisite for renting a dwelling unit. 

The lame-duck session

As we journey through the final leg of the two-year legislative session and approach the state’s general election on Nov. 7, 2023, we must remember that a lame-duck session looms. Last year, the 2021-22 lame-duck session produced 650 bill and resolution introductions and 83 gubernatorial signatures. If history is any indicator of the future, then New Jersey lawmakers may have their work cut out for them before year’s end.

[1] https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/NJ

[2] Ibid.

Theophilus Alexander
PIA Northeast

Theophilus W. Alexander joined PIA Northeast as a government & industry affairs specialist for the Government & Industry Affairs Department in 2023. Prior to joining PIA, Theo had served in both houses of the New York State Legislature. Previously, he worked as a legislative analyst for Hon. New York State Sen. Samra G. Brouk, D-55, and he served at the New York State Assembly, as a policy analyst with New York Assembly Program & Counsel. Theo received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Politics from Ithaca College in Ithaca, N.Y.

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