Spotlight on Sexual Harassment in Housing

Multifamily owners and property managers can be liable under the Fair Housing Act.

May 16, 2018

The issue of sexual harassment in housing is gaining more visibility as the result of a recent initiative by The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Justice. While public awareness about quid pro quo and hostile environment claims is more established in the context of employment law, the federal government is increasing consumer outreach in regard to complaints related to housing.

Harassment is a violation of the Fair Housing Act,” said attorney Caroline Elmendorf, compliance officer with Bozzuto Management Company, a multistate real estate services firm which manages apartments from Boston to Boca Raton, Fla. Elmendorf’s remarks were part of a session offering highlights of the responsibilities and risks facing property managers at the inaugural meeting of the Single Family Investment Management Committee on May 15 during the REALTORS® Legislative Meetings & Trade Expo. “You have to protect people from harassment and that includes harassment by other residents” in an apartment building or complex, Elmendorf added.

A landlord insisting that a prospective tenant go on a date as a condition of obtaining an apartment lease is one example of a quid pro quo violation, according to Elmendorf. Other instances of hostile environment violations include:

  • A concierge repeatedly complimenting a resident’s physical attributes
  • A broker raising sexual topics with a prospective tenant or buyer
  • A property manager groping or making unwelcome advances to a resident

Property managers and owners must be aware that retaliation is not permitted after a complaint by a resident. “It is illegal to evict or take adverse action against a resident after he or she complains about harassment, notifies a supervisor, or files a lawsuit or formal complaint with HUD,” she said.

Managers should train their teams to be aware of harassment and include anti-harassment provisions in leases. Added Elmendorf: “It’s the responsibility of property managers to develop a response plan and stay on top of any follow-up action. This where a lot of us get into trouble.”

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