Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a complaint in federal court asserting that a housing provider in Ohio violated the Fair Housing Act (FHA) by sexually harassing a number of female tenants (for more than a decade) at various rental properties in and around Toledo. DOJ noted that this complaint is the 12th case the Department has filed asserting a pattern or practice of sexual harassment in housing since 2017.
The lawsuit alleges that from at least 2007 through 2019, the co-owner of a number of rental properties engaged in a series of acts making up the harassment as described in the complaint. Specifically, DOJ alleged the property owner/agent engaged in “severe and pervasive sexual harassment” for more than ten years. The alleged conduct included unwelcome sexual advances as well as unwanted comments and sending sexual text messages, videos, and photos to multiple female tenants. Additionally, DOJ has evidence that he offered housing concessions — such as reducing security deposits, monthly rental amounts, and waiving of late fees — in return for sex or sexual acts. Unsurprisingly, DOJ also notes that the owner attempted to punish those tenants who rejected his sexual advances by refusing to provide maintenance services or taking other adverse housing actions such as filing eviction papers. Finally, the complaint includes allegations that the owner entered the homes of female residents without their consent and that he expressed a desire for renting to single female tenants.
As I always make clear, just because a complaint has been filed does not mean the allegations are true. Indeed, as a defense lawyer, I always know there are at least two sides to every story. But the teaching moment for professional apartment management here is to ensure we include prevention of sexual harassment in our fair housing training and – importantly – that we promptly investigate allegations of misconduct. This goes for large apartment management companies with formal leasing offices as well as family owned/operated rental units covered by the FHA. It could be that a resident is simply attempting to delay an eviction by raising specious claims. Or, like here, it could result in a federal FHA complaint with DOJ on the other side. In either case, you might want to speak with a lawyer like me.
Just A Thought.