TRENTON — A proposed law advancing in the Legislature aims to ensure that loved ones aren't stuck with the bill when a person dies in the middle of a vehicle leasing contract.

The Assembly Consumer Affairs Committee unanimously approved a measure Monday that would make it illegal for lessors to force a surviving family member, guardian or estate administrator to continue one's lease in the event of a death, or buy out the remainder of the lease, as long as the vehicle is returned. The bill also prohibits a dealer or lessor from imposing a fee for early termination, but a "reasonable fee" could still be assessed should the vehicle be returned with excess wear.

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Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt, D-Camden, said she came up with the idea after a close friend suddenly passed away — he had just re-leased a vehicle, and his wife was left with the contract, with "no way for her to get out of it."

"With sadly over 20,000 people in the state of New Jersey who have passed away due to COVID, this happened to somebody within this last year," Lampitt told New Jersey 101.5.

"Much like forgiving student loan debt in the event of someone's passing, the death of a car lessee is another special circumstance that should require debt cancellation to ensure families are not taking on an extra burden," said Assemblyman Raj Mukherji, D-Hudson.

During the March 8 committee hearing, it was noted that the New Jersey Bankers Association is opposed to the bill. When contacted by New Jersey 101.5, the association said it's looking for some clarifying amendments to the bill.

The New Jersey Coalition of Automotive Retailers said it plans to reach out to the sponsors to make sure they understand that dealers do not lease cars; they sell vehicles to leasing companies who lease them to consumers.

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