The Fair Housing Act provides protection against discrimination because of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability and/or familial status. Within those parameters, sexual harassment is considered a form of discrimination. Further, under the Fair Housing Act, if a landlord, or anyone in the landlord’s employ engages in any sort of discriminatory behavior, the landlord can be held responsible. With that said, here’s what landlords need to know about sexual harassment.
Any uninvited sexual advance, solicitation, request, or demand for sexual compliance is considered harassment. Within that definition, the courts recognize two basic types of sexual harassment.
Quid pro quo sexual harassment
This occurs when a housing provider, one of their employees, agents or contractors makes access or retention of housing (or housing related services or transactions) conditional upon the performance of sexual acts.
Hostile environment sexual harassment
This is defined as when a housing provider, one of their employees, agents or contractors or another tenant engages in sexual behavior that alters the terms or conditions of tenancy and creates an environment of intimidation, hostility, offensiveness, or an otherwise less desirable atmosphere. Under this form of sexual harassment, claims can be filed even if the alleged victim didn’t experience the loss of housing or another tangible economic loss.
Both of the above apply equally to same sex situations as well as mixed gender. Further, the harassment does not have to stem from sexual desire. It can be motivated by hostility toward a particular sex.
Under the Fair Housing Act, property owners and property managers are required by law to refrain from engaging in sexual harassment. They are also required to step in and stop harassment if they become aware of it, or even if it can be proven they should have been aware of it. Because of this, the property owner can be held liable whenever harassment occurs on their property.
How to deal with sexual harassment
Let’s say for example we are following San Francisco Landlord-Tenant Laws and you authorize a maintenance worker to enter a tenant’s residence. The worker harasses the tenant and one of their guests or a member of their family. You can be held vicariously responsible for the actions of that individual. What’s more, if one of your tenants engages in harassment against another one and you are informed of it, if you fail to take action on the alleged victim’s behalf, some courts have ruled you are equally liable, as you can be said to have created an atmosphere within which there are no repercussions for untoward behavior of this nature.
For this reason, if you are made aware of any form of sexual harassment on your property, you should take definitive steps to stop the harassment, up to and including firing the staffer or evicting the tenant. You should also exercise caution that none of your subsequent actions could be construed as retaliatory against the victim or the individual who reported the situation. This includes denying housing, increasing rent, withholding maintenance or other services, harassing, suing, or evicting.
In addition to fines, sexual harassment cases can open you to civil liability suits, so you want to make sure you address any such claims right away. You should also request the complaint be made in writing, signed and dated. Additionally, you should record in writing the actions you took to rectify the situation along with the dates the actions were taken.
Read more on what to do if your tenant is facing sexual harassment in your rental home in our tenant eviction guide: