Fair housing law bans not only sexual harassment, but also harassment based on race or color, and other protected characteristics. As a general rule, community owners may be liable for illegal harassment by managers or employees, when they knew or should have known about it but failed to do enough to stop it. Moreover, the FHA makes it unlawful to intimidate, threaten, or interfere with anyone exercising his fair housing rights.
Take all necessary steps to prevent—and address—discrimination or harassment at the community. You don’t have only your employees or staff members to worry about—you could face liability for tenant-on-tenant harassment under certain circumstances. Under HUD regulations, communities may be liable under the FHA for failing to take prompt action to correct and end a discriminatory housing practice by a third party, where the community knew or should have known of the discriminatory conduct and had the power to correct it. The power to take prompt action to correct and end a discriminatory housing practice by a third party depends upon the extent of your control or any other legal responsibility you may have with respect to the third party’s conduct.
Example: In November 2019, HUD announced that it reached a $80,000 settlement to resolve allegations that the owners and manager of a Georgia community ignored complaints by African-American residents of repeated racial harassment by white neighbors.
Three African-American residents filed the HUD complaint, alleging that the community refused to investigate and address their claims that their white neighbors subjected them to racial harassment and verbal and physical assaults, including attacks by dogs. The community denied the allegations but agreed to the settlement requiring payment of $20,000 to each of the three residents and to create a $20,000 fund to compensate other residents who may have been subjected to racial harassment.
“No one should ever have to face threats or be subjected to physical violence in the place they call home because of their race,” Anna María Farías, HUD’s Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, said in a statement. “The agreement we’re announcing today is a reminder to housing providers everywhere that HUD is committed to ensuring that they meet their obligation to comply with the nation’s fair housing laws.”
In the January 2020 lesson, Fair Housing Coach highlighted an appeals court ruling that a New York community could face liability under the FHA for failure to stop an alleged campaign of racial harassment against an African-American resident by his neighbor. In recent action, the appeals court agreed to a rehearing in the case; oral arguments are scheduled for September 2020.
In his complaint, the resident alleged that his next-door neighbor engaged in a months-long campaign of racial harassment, abuse, and threats against him. According to the resident, he contacted police and notified management about the neighbor’s abuse at least three times, but management failed to intervene. Ultimately, the neighbor was arrested and pleaded guilty to aggravated harassment.
The resident sued, accusing the community of violating fair housing law by failing to take action to address a racially hostile housing environment created by his neighbor. A district court ruled against the resident and dismissed the case.
After a series of proceedings, a panel of the appeals court reversed, ruling that the resident could pursue his claims against the community for intentional discrimination under the FHA by failing to do anything to stop the neighbor from subjecting him to a racially hostile housing environment [Francis v. Kings Park Manor, Inc., New York, December 2019].