Saturday, December 05, 2015

Sexual Harassment & The Fair Housing Act

From the Department of Housing & Urban Development:
  • A home should be a refuge and a place of comfort. But for many women their landlords are a source of fear, demanding sexual favors along with rent money. This kind of sexual harassment isn’t often in the news cycle but it happens routinely, just below the radar, and it’s one of the subjects of a new rule from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to protect the most vulnerable women from predatory landlords or others.
    Even though [] victims may know what happened is wrong, they may not know they have recourse. That is why HUD’s announcement of a proposed rule that would spell out the standards for assessing claims of harassment under the Fair Housing Act is so important.

    HUD’s proposed rule, “Quid Pro Quo and Hostile Environment Harassment and Liability for Discriminatory Housing Practices under the Fair Housing Act,” would define and provide illustrations of two types of harassment claims: (1) quid pro quo harassment, and (2) hostile environment harassment.

    Quid Pro Quo Harassment includes subjecting a person to an unwelcome request or demand and relating that to the person’s housing. For example, an employee of a homeless shelter might request sexual favors from female shelter residents as a condition of staying at the shelter, or a manager of rental properties conditions the rent amount on whether female tenants grant sexual favors.

    Hostile Environment Harassment includes subjecting a person to unwelcome conduct that is sufficiently severe or pervasive such that it interferes with or deprives the person the right to use and enjoy their home. For example, the owner of a rental home enters a tenant’s unit and makes unwelcome sexual advances, or if a landlord allows harassment of a tenant with disabilities, as in a recent Wisconsin case for which HUD charged Wisconsin landlords.(1) Race- and national origin-based harassment is also covered, including, for example, neighbors who create a hostile environment for an African-American family that moves into the neighborhood.

    Absent any standards set by HUD, courts have often applied employment discrimination standards first adopted under Title VII to evaluate claims of harassment under the Fair Housing Act. But given the differences between harassment in the workplace and harassment in one’s home, these workplace standards are not always the most suitable.

    When harassment happens in the workplace, the victim can escape to his home. In contrast, when harassment happens at home, the victim has no escape short of moving or staying away from the home – neither of which should be required.

    This rule is simple: no one should be subject to harassment and especially not in your house, which should be your sanctuary. Please contact HUD if any of these examples sound familiar, or file a fair housing complaint based on harassment: (800) 669-9777.
For more, see New housing rule protects most vulnerable women from sexual harassment in their home.

See also, HUD Proposes Rule To Clarify Protections For Victims Of Harassment In Housing (Rule would formalize standards for bringing harassment claims under the Fair Housing Act).
(1) For more on Hostile Environment Harassment, see New HUD Guidance on Sexual Harassment in Public Housing:
  • While “quid pro quo” is pretty easy to recognize, one’s understanding of hostile environment may benefit from more specific examples, drawn from cases and tenant reports.

    Abusive language/bullying. A male landlord berates female tenant for being late on rent using gender-specific terms and a loud voice and menacing manner, in front of neighbors.

    Abuse of entry. A maintenance man (allegedly) knocks and then, without waiting, keys himself into a female tenant’s apartment finding her in her nightclothes. In another case, a maintenance man only comes to make repairs between 2:30 PM and 4 PM, when teenage daughters are home alone.

    Voyeurism/stalking. A maintenance man hovers outside female tenant’s ground floor window on the pretext of “doing an inspection” of the gutters by her unit. Later, he’s seen hanging around same tenant’s unit entry door after working hours.

    Intrusive inspection. Property owner rifles through female tenant’s lingerie drawers as a part of a “housekeeping” inspection.

    Banned guests. Female tenant threatened with eviction because her former boyfriend was caught trying to break into her apartment.

    Nuisance call evictions. A landlord evicts a female tenant after being advised by local police that the tenant was making too many calls for help.

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