The Federal Fair Housing Act, along with many state and local laws, prohibits gender discrimination in housing, including sexual harassment.
It is illegal for landlords, property managers, real estate agents, and maintenance staff to demand sexual favors in exchange for access to housing or repairs. They also cannot create a hostile environment for tenants based on their sex, for example, by making sexual advances or engaging in verbal or physical sexual abuse.
Here is a list of examples—though certainly not exhaustive—of illegal sexual harassment in housing from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development:
- A landlord tells an applicant he won’t rent her an apartment unless she has sex with him.
- A property manager evicts a tenant after she refuses to perform sexual acts.
- A maintenance man refuses to make repairs unless a tenant gives him nude photos of herself.
- A landlord subjects a tenant to severe or pervasive unwelcome touching, kissing, or groping.
- A property manager makes severe or pervasive unwelcome, lewd comments about a tenant’s body.
- A maintenance man sends a tenant severe or pervasive unwelcome, sexually suggestive texts and enters her apartment without invitation or permission.
In certain circumstances, landlords are also required to stop tenants from sexually harassing other tenants. Recently, in a case called Wetzel v. Glen St. Andrew Living Cmty., LLC , the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit found that the Federal Fair Housing Act “creates liability against a landlord that has actual notice of tenant-on-tenant harassment based on a protected status, yet chooses not to take any reasonable steps within its control to stop that harassment.”
Tenants who have been subjected to sexual harassment can file claims with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), certain state or local fair housing agencies, or in federal or state court. Tenants can seek monetary compensation from their landlords and force their landlords to end the harassment
Remember that fair housing laws have short statutes of limitations: you have two years to file a claim in court for violations of the Federal Fair Housing Act; only one year to file a claim with HUD; and as few as 180 days to file a claim with some state agencies.
If you have been subjected to sexual harassment relating to your housing, you should consider contacting a housing discrimination lawyer to help you decide how to file your sexual harassment claim.
No person should face sexual harassment in their home or apartment building. Fair housing laws can be useful tools to help ensure that everyone has access to harassment-free housing.