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This podcast is about sexual harassment in rental housing and what to do if you believe that you have been harassed by your landlord, an employee of your landlord or another tenant.
For decades in the United States, the Fair Housing Act has prohibited housing discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status and national origin. For much of this time, many courts and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development have said that harassment in housing is also discrimination under the Fair Housing Act.
A person’s home should be a refuge, safe, private and free from the threat of violence or harassment. People should not be harassed because of their race, religion, color, national origin, disability or perceived disability, family status, or gender. Sometimes people are harassed because of more than one basis at the same time, for example a Native American woman or a Muslim person with disabilities.
There are two types of housing harassment: Quid pro quo harassment and hostile environment harassment. “Quid pro quo” is a Latin phrase that means “this for that.” Quid pro quo harassment happens when victims are asked to do something that they may not want to do in exchange for something of value that the housing provider will do. Hostile environment harassment happens when victims are subjected to severe, pervasive conduct that interferes with or takes away their ability to use and enjoy the housing.
Sexual harassment is the most common type of housing harassment. Statistically, low-income women, racial and ethnic minorities, and people with disabilities are the most vulnerable to sexual harassment in housing. When people are sexually harassed, usually the only way they can get away from it is to move, which means they lose their housing, and risk forfeiting rental deposits and bad landlord references, as well as other negative consequences. Some examples of sexual harassment in housing include:
- A housing provider asks for rent in the form of sexual favors instead of rent.
- A housing provider says that a necessary repair, like fixing the plumbing, will be done if the tenant performs a sexual favor.
- A housing provider makes sexual comments in front of the tenant or the tenant’s family.
- A housing provider inappropriately touches a tenant’s body.
- A housing provider refuses to help when the tenant reports that sexual harassment by another tenant.
When analyzing sexual harassment in housing cases, courts have relied on the legal theories used in employment discrimination cases. But, a tenant’s expectations of privacy and security in a home are much higher than expectations of privacy and security at work. Recognizing these important differences, in the fall of 2015, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development proposed a new rule that defines quid pro quo harassment and hostile environment harassment in housing.
Approval of the proposed rule is still pending, but it provides that any person who claims to have been injured by harassment is considered an aggrieved person, even if that person is not the direct target of the harassment. Children, for example, might be hurt by harassment directed at their parents because the children will lose their housing if their parents are evicted. Other applicants for an apartment might be hurt if a housing provider leases an apartment to someone in exchange for sexual favors, because the other applicants might be denied housing for which they are qualified to rent.
The proposed rule says that quid pro quo harassment happens when a victim is subjected to an unwelcome request or demand, even if the victim agrees to or submits to the demand. The proposed rule says that hostile environment harassment happens when a victim is subjected to unwelcome conduct that is so severe and pervasive that it prevents the victim from using or enjoying the housing. The rule says that hostile environment harassment will be assessed based on the totality of the circumstances, including the nature and context of the conduct, the relationships of the people involved, and the severity, scope, frequency, duration and location of the incidents.
If you have a sexual harassment complaint related to housing, contact Pine Tree Legal Assistance for a confidential consultation. We can explain your legal rights and help you understand how to address the problem. If you want to file a complaint, we may be able to represent you.
Have the following information on hand when you contact us:
- A description of the harassing events, in chronological order.
- Copies of any emails, notes or other documentation from the landlord, landlord’s employee or other tenant.
- Location(s) where the harassment took place.
- Specific date(s) and time(s) when the harassment happened.
- Name(s) of the person(s) who did the harassing or were involved.
- Any actions you have already taken.
- Keep a log of your contacts with the landlord. Include any times when you left messages and the landlord did not respond.
You can find contact information for a Pine Tree Legal Assistance office near you, as well as information about sexual harassment discrimination and fair housing laws at www.ptla.org.
Published on March 31, 2016