SEXUAL HARASSMENT FAIR HOUSING LAWS
Sexual harassment is against the law. Sexual harassment is a form of sex
discrimination that involves unwelcomed sexual advances, requests for
sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature
* Submission to or rejection of such conduct is made either explicitly
or implicitly a term or condition of housing, or
* Submission to or rejection of such conduct by a person is used as a
basis for housing decisions affecting that person, or
* Such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with
an persons housing rights or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive
**The above definition emphasizes that housing harassment, to be actionable
as abusive, need not result in concrete psychological harm to the victim,
but rather need only be so severe or pervasive that a reasonable person
would perceive and the victim does perceive, the housing environment as
hostile or abusive.
The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in the
sale or rental of housing. The Fair Housing Act applies to all housing
* Owner occupied housing that contains 4 or less units of housing;
* Single family dwellings sold or rented by housing providers who own
less than 4 such dwellings.
SEXUAL HARASSMENT: TYPES
A. Quid Pro Quo or this for that
This type of harassment occurs when a housing provider seeks sex or sexual
favors in return for housing rights. Examples of such would include:
* A landlord terminating the lease of a female tenant who refused to have
sex with him;
* A landlord refusing to do the repairs of a female tenant who refused
to have sex with him;
In quid pro quo claims, it is not necessary for a housing provider to
explicitly threaten eviction action when he or she made sexual demands.
There only needs to be an adverse action following the refusal and a relationship
between the harassing behavior and the adverse action show.
In order to make a claim of quid pro quo harassment, the following criterion
must be met:
* You must be a member of a protected class;
* You must have been subjected to unwelcomed sexual advances;
* The unwelcomed sexual advances were due to your sex;
* You rebuffed the advances and were retaliated against in an adverse
* Owner knew of or should have known of the harassment of his agent and
failed to take action to stop it.**
B. Hostile Housing Environment
This type of sexual harassment takes place
when unwelcomed sexual advances create an hostile, intimidating, or abusive
environment or has the effect of impeding a tenantÌs housing rights.
This may occur when a landlord makes unwanted sexual advances or touches
a woman in a sexual manner when she does not want him to.
CASE LAW: New York v. Merlino, 694 F. Supp. 1101 (S.D.N.Y. 1988)
Court validated claim of female customers that real estate broker subjected
them to unwanted physical touchings and suggestive comments.
Beliveau v. Cara, 873 F. Supp. 1393, 1395 (C.D. Cal. 1995)
Court found that the landlord activity of making off-color remarks, grabbing
her breasts and buttocks, and putting arm around her created a hostile
housing environment. In addition, the court stated that any touching would
support a sexual harassment claim under the Fair Housing Act.
In order to bring a hostile housing environment case the following criterion
must be met:
* You must be a member of protected class;
* You must have been subjected to unwelcomed and extensive sexual harassment
in the form of sexual advances, requests for sexual favor, and other verbal
or physical conduct of a sexual nature, which has not been solicited or
desired and which is viewed as undesirable or offensive.
* The sexual advances or harassment were based on their sex;
* The sexual advances or harassment makes your tenancy burdensome and
significantly less desirable than if the harassment were not occurring;
* The owner knew or should have known about the sexual advances or harassment
and failed to stop it.
A court will review the following factors in deciding whether or not a
plaintiff has proven all elements of her claim. Some of the factors are:
* The frequency of the unwanted sexual behavior;
* Its severity;
* Whether it is physically threatening or humiliating,
as opposed to a mere offensive utterance;
* Whether the conduct resulted in psychological harm, although a woman
does not have to prove psychological harm in order to prove that she was
subject to a hostile environment.
While one act can establish quid pro quo claim, most courts have ruled
that a series of harassing acts are need to establish a hostile environment
SEXUAL HARASSMENT - PARTIES
A. Aggrieved Parties
Any person who has been sexually harassed in connection with their housing
- apartment, house, homeless shelter, or trailer - has a right to file
a sexual harassment claim. An aggrieved person is any person who:
* Claims to have been injured about a discriminatory housing practice;
* Believes that such person will be injured by a discriminatory housing
practice that is about to occur.
An injury may be tangible or intangible. Moving costs or higher rent for
alternative housing are examples of tangible injuries. Examples of intangible
injuries would include loss of housing or school choice and humiliation.
Any person who participates in the sexual harassing activity can be named
as a respondent or defendant in a sexual harassment claim. It is important
for housing providers to note that because they are responsible for making
sure that fair housing laws are complied with, they can be held liable
for the sexual harassment of agents or employees even if they did not
participate in the behavior.
SEXUAL HARASSMENT - WHERE TO FILE COMPLAINTS
A. Administrative Agency
You may file an administrative complaint with HUD or your state fair housing
agency (i.e. Ohio Civil Rights Commission) within one year of the discriminatory
activity. Advantages of this process are minimal costs, free legal representation,
specialized judges or hearing officers, and speed.
The investigating agency will attempt to reach a settlement agreement
between the parties. However, if one cannot be reached an investigation
will be conducted resulting in a charge or a dismissal of the claim. If
the claim is dismissed, the aggrieved parties may still bring an action
in court. If the claim is not dismissed and a charge is issued, the parties
have the right to elect whether to have the complaint heard by an administrative
law judge or heard in court.
B. Court Action
You may file in federal court within two years of the discriminatory and
sexually harassing behavior. The two year period does not include the
time that you may have spent participating in an administrative action.
The advantages of filing in court are broader relief-punitive and actual
damages, attorney fees, jury trials, time to file, etc. Disadvantages
to filing in court are costs, time consuming, less flexible proceedings,
and potential for hostile or interested/inexperienced fair housing knowledge
1. Remedies Available
* Actual damages to make you whole again;
* Punitive damages for intentional discrimination;
* Injunctive relief to stop behavior or keep you from losing your housing;
* Attorneys’ fees and costs to prevailing party (at court’s
C. Police Action
If you are sexually harassed by your landlord, you may want to file a
report with your local police department. In 1995, the Toledo Police Department
assisted in the investigation of a sexual harassment case. Tamara Ransford,
a single woman, contacted the Fair Housing Center of Toledo, which contacted
the Toledo Police Department. The police department agreed to equip Ransford
with a wireless microphone and set up another visit to the complex.
The Center provided Ransford with a security deposit and, in cooperation
with the Toledo Fair Housing Center, sent her back to the complex. Police
monitored the conversation between Ransford and the manager, Kenneth Canda.
When she left the office, the police arrested Canda on a charge of importuning
(persistent unwelcomed requests for sexual favors). Canda later plead
guilty to a reduced charge of indecent exposure.
Central Management Company, Canda’s employer, agreed to pay $50,000
plus attorney fees to the Toledo Fair Housing Center and Ms. Ransford
in order to settle the complaint.
D. Private Fair Housing Organizations
Contact your local fair housing group for assistance dealing with your
situation. The fair housing group can inform you of your rights and responsibilities
under fair housing laws, take your complaint, conduct an investigation,
assist you in filing an administrative complaint, refer you to an experienced
fair housing attorney, etc.
SEXUAL HARASSMENT - HOW PARTIES MAY PROTECT
A. Landlord Action
In order to minimize the potential for being hit with a sexual harassment
complaint or potential damages, housing providers should take the following
1. Establish a sexual harassment policy
A. Policy should be explain what behavior is unacceptable and what the
penalties for violations are.
B. Know what sexual harassment is, how it happens, etc.
2. Inform employees of the established policy prohibiting sexual harassment.
A. Post in office and provide copies to all employees.
3. Monitor compliance and respond swiftly when complaints arise.
A. Take action when you hear off-color remarks, if sexually oriented materials
are brought into the workplace or work environment, etc.
B. Review policies with employees at least once a year.
4. Employ a gender diverse employee base.
A. Have both males and females on staff. This should discourage a good
ol’ boy or girl work environment where persons may feel free to
make certain statements, etc.
5. Do not have a reputation for permitting sexual jokes, inappropriate
comments, innuendoes, or touching.
6. Do not permit sexually suggestive visuals or objects to be brought
into the housing management/maintenance environment. These may create
potential for a complaint, do not reflect a professional image, and contribute
to an offensive, hostile, and intimidating environment. In addition, these
items may be used as evidence in a sexual harassment complaint.
7. Do not permit employees to refer to persons of the opposite sex as
“honey,” “dear,” “sweetheart,” or
other similar expressions.
1. Maintain a business relationship with your
landlord and/or his agents.
2. Do not wear provocative clothing when you engage face to face with
your landlord and/or his agents.
3. Be proactive if you are sexually harassed:
A. Speak with the offender.
B. Keep records
Include each event, date, time, location, what happened, what was said,
how you felt, and the names of witnesses or other persons victimized.
C. Write letters
Write a letter to the offender and his employer or boss.
D. Follow the other recommendations noted throughout this handbook.
SEXUAL HARASSMENT - POLICY POINTERS
A. Identity The Problem
Any of these elements may constitute sexual harassment:
1. Physical contact
6. Terms of Endearment
7. Questionable Comments
1. Does behavior contribute to maintaining professional business like
2. Do you care if you offend others?
3. Could someone misinterpret my behavior as intentionally harmful or
4. Does your behavior offend or hurt others?
C. Your role and Responsibility
1. Contact a fair housing agency. If none available, contact an attorney.
2. File a report with police.
3. Notify owner of complaint.
1. Stop behavior immediately.
2. Notify property owner and superiors or employer.
3. If legal action filed against you, contact an attorney.
4. Avoid any appearance of retaliation, whether direct or indirect.
5. Take responsibility and see that it does not happen again.
1. Discuss the incident with the alleged harasser.
2. Suggest that alleged harasser seek legal counsel.
3. Seek legal counsel.
4. Conduct a fact finding investigation and cooperate with any official
investigating body such as HUD or the OCRC.
5. Take strong action for proven sexual harassment.
It is important to remember that fair housing laws make it illegal for
anyone to subject you to harassment, intimidation, and interference because
you have filed a complaint, assisted someone else in filing a complaint
or in exercising their fair housing rights, or even refused to participate
in an act which would violate fair housing laws.
Knowledge is power! It is important that you know about fair housing rights
and responsibilities and what actions can be taken if your fair housing
rights are violated. Victims of housing discrimination can seek the following
* Compensation for damages from humiliation, embarrassment, pain, suffering,
including actual damages;
* Attorneys’ fees;
* Punitive damages;
* Other injunctive or equitable relief
If you suspect that you or someone you know has been discriminated against
or harassed because of their race, color, national origin, religion, sex,
familial status, or handicap, it should be reported immediately. To report
such acts, you may contact the:
* FAIR HOUSING ADVOCATES ASSOCIATION
* U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HOUSING & URBAN DEVELOPMENT
* OHIO CIVIL RIGHTS COMMISSION
|The Fair Housing Advocates Association
(FHAA) seeks to be accurate in providing housing information
to prospective and existing tenant and landlords, home-seekers,
housing providers, and the general public. The FHAA recognizes
that errors may occur and will be corrected when they are discovered.
The information provided in this handbook is only intended to
provide its readers with information and guidance. Should persons
want legal advice they should contact an attorney.