Sex Discrimination and Other Harassment
Fair Housing and Sex Discrimination
Sexual harassment can be any unwelcome sexually suggestive or inappropriate language, touching, gestures, demands, or conditions made toward or about another person. Housing providers should be concerned about two types of sexual harassment:
(1) residents sexually harassing other residents or staff and
(2) staff sexually harassing other residents or other staff.
Court decisions have made it impossible and costly for housing providers to ignore a tenant's allegation of sexual harassment. That means that housing providers should take allegations of sexual harassment seriously. Taking allegations of sexual harassment seriously begins by having a written policy that explains what sexual harassment is, and establishes that it will not be tolerated. A meaningful sexual harassment policy will include prohibiting inappropriate or suggestive touching and joke telling. It will also prohibit staff from using inappropriate or unprofessional language with other staff or any resident. It will also discourage residents from doing the same. A meaningful sexual harassment policy will also explain how sexual harassment complaints will be handled and investigated and how offenders will be disciplined.
Maintenance staff can also be targets of sexual harassment complaints. Therefore maintenance staff should be trained to enter apartments only after scheduling an appointment. Even if they schedule an appointment, maintenance staff should not enter an apartment if it is questionable to do so. For example, if the tenant is not properly dressed, or if they are in the shower, the maintenance staff may want to return later.
Once you've established a sexual harassment policy make sure all staff are properly trained on it and then distribute the policy to all residents.
Other Forms of Harassment
Non-sexual harassment may include any behavior that creates an abusive, hostile, or intimidating environment. Examples of non-sexual harassment that may be actionable under the fair housing law include using intimidating or discriminatory phrases or gestures, calling people names, and even gossiping about tenants. Any pattern of behavior by one tenant that disturbs another tenant's quiet and peaceful enjoyment of the premises may amount to harassment that is actionable under the fair housing law.
Housing providers must also take allegations of non-sexual harassment seriously. Housing providers should not ignore a tenant who complains that they are being harassed by another tenant or a staff member because of their race or because they have children or for any other protected reason. If you're a housing provider and one of your tenants complains that they are being harassed, it's your responsibility to investigate and address the tenants' concerns. To do nothing is to invite being sued.