When the term “sexual harassment” comes up, it’s often in the context of employment, such as the ubiquitous #Metoo movement.
However, a predator can sexually harass an individual in many settings besides the workplace. This includes when someone is renting or purchasing property. Californians are protected under the federal Fair Housing Act, as well as the California Fair Employment Housing Act (FEHA). These acts forbid landlords/owners (which refers to private individuals, property management companies, housing providers) and their employees/agents from engaging in this deplorable practice.
Tenant sexual harassment, like other forms of tenant harassment is not unusual. However, with the widespread loss of jobs due to the COVID-19 crisis making people more vulnerable, it’s not surprising that the National Fair Housing Alliance has reported a 13 percent uptick in sexual harassment complaints since the pandemic began.
Categories of Sexual Harassment
The basic definition of sexual harassment is to commit any unwelcome and nonconsensual act that is sexual in nature against an individual. Sexual harassment encompasses various forms of behavior, but it is typically divided into two main categories: quid pro quo and hostile environment. It is not uncommon for a victim to suffer from both.
- Quid Pro Quo: Quid pro quo (Latin for “this for that”) happens when the landlord asks for sex or sexual favors to avoid eviction or for exchange for something, such as free rent, repairs, excused late payments or fees. For instance, if the landlord decides to rent an apartment to an applicant in exchange for a date, then this is considered quid pro quo.
- Hostile Environment: The hostile environment occurs when the landlord creates a threatening or uncomfortable environment because of unwanted sexual behavior, such as the following:
- Enters apartment without permission;
- Makes unwanted sexual advances or comments;
- Sexual assault;
- Constant leering;
- Lewd notes or drawings;
- Requests naked pictures or videos;
- Touching without consent;
- Repeated sexual jokes, innuendoes, or comments (especially about the body);
- Threatens eviction if their sexual advances aren’t reciprocated.
Liability for Tenant Sexual Harassment
Property owners/landlords and their agents may be held liable for damages (monetary compensation) to renters or buyers who suffer from sexual harassment by:
- The owner/landlord;
- On-site managers (whether or not the owner/landlord knew about the harassment);
Tips for Dealing with Sexual Harassment
Here are some suggestions for what to do if you have been harassed:
- Document the incidents by making a video or recording a conversation.
- Keep copies of any emails or texts that detail the events.
- Take photos of any notes or letters that evidence the harassment.
- Contact the appropriate authorities (the police, property management company, the manager, counsel, etc.)
Assert your Rights with Help from an Experienced Tenants Rights Attorney
Sexual harassment is a very serious offense that has a long-lasting impact on victims. If you’ve been harmed in this way, you can work with an attorney to hold your landlord accountable. Explore your options with an experienced tenants’ rights attorney at Wolford Wayne. Contact us today; we’re here to help you.