In my previous post, I discussed the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) prohibition on sexual harassment. Although it seems patently obvious that no landlord should be sexually harassing his or her residents, apparently some people remain oblivious. And as a recent settlement by the Department of Justice (DOJ, the government organization that prosecutes housing discrimination claims in court) reveals, HUD and the DOJ take sexual harassment very seriously.
On July 10, 2017, the DOJ announced that it reached a $600,000 (!) settlement with the owners and former managers of more than 70 residential properties in the Morganton, West Virginia area. The settlement was in resolution of allegations that the property manager sexually harassed both female residents and prospective residents. In addition to the $600,000 (!) in damages and civil penalties, the offending property manager had to transfer his ownership shares in these properties and relinquish his role in their management. The property manager at issue here was also enjoined from engaging in any property management, rental management, or maintenance responsibilities at the rental properties, as well as from entering the premises or having any contact with current or former residents of the rental property.
This settlement amount is significantly higher than a typical fair housing case—however, the conduct by the property manager was particularly repugnant. The matter began when four female residents filed fair housing complaints with HUD, alleging sexual harassment against the property manager. During the course of its investigation, HUD determined that there was reasonable cause to believe that the property manager sexually harassed multiple female residents and prospective residents over a nine year period, including inappropriate touching and groping, conditioning tangible housing benefits to female tenants in exchange for performance of a sex act (quintessential quid pro quo harassment), making unwanted sexual comments and advances, entering the homes of female residents without permission to sexually harass them, and taking or threatening to take adverse action against female tenants when they refused or objected to his sexual advances. As Acting Assistant General Tom Wheeler of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division aptly stated, “[i]t is unacceptable that a woman should have to endure sexual harassment by her landlord in her own home,” and, accordingly, this settlement was intended to “send a strong message that the Civil Rights Division will aggressively pursue those who engage in this egregious conduct.”
So what’s the bottom line? I cannot say this enough—as a property management company or owner, you need to have strong policies and training programs in place to prevent harassment, and you have to act promptly and proactively to end harassment whenever and wherever it occurs.