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What Can I Do If My Landlord is Sexually Harassing Me?

Understand how federal anti-discrimination laws protect you if you become the victim of sexual harassment at your apartment building.

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) was amended in 1974 to ban discrimination based on sex, including sexual harassment. Here’s what you need to know to spot sexual harassment at your apartment building—and pursue justice.

What types of sexual harassment should I watch out for as a tenant?

Just like in the workplace, both “quid pro quo” and “hostile environment” sexual harassment are against the law.1 Quid pro quo (this for that) typically occurs when landlords try to barter sexual favors in return for lowering or forgiving a tenant’s rent. Landlords who carry on a campaign of unwanted touching or other offensive behavior create a hostile environment for tenants, which also interferes with their enjoyment of their apartment.

A Grand Rapids, Michigan landlord settled with the DOJ after being sued for both types of sexual harassment. According to the complaint, the landlord created a hostile environment by making unwelcome sexual comments to female applicants and tenants and touched their bodies without their consent. In addition, tenants said the landlord offered to reduce rent, ignore late or unpaid rent, and stop or proceed with evictions in return for sexual acts. The landlord agreed to pay $140,000 to the women he harassed and hire another person to manage his properties.2

Is it still considered sexual harassment if I'm not a woman (or if a woman is harassing me)?

When it comes to sexual harassment, the gender of the harasser and the victim doesn’t matter. Although women are most often the victims of sexual harassment, the FHA protects all tenants against sexual harassment, regardless of gender.

What if the sexual harasser isn't my landlord?

Sexual harassment occurs when someone forces a tenant to engage in unwelcome sexual conduct in connection with their rental housing. Although the offender is often the landlord, it's also illegal under the FHA for a property manager, maintenance worker, super, or broker to sexually harass a renter.

Here are some common examples of sexual harassment in housing:

  • A property manager refuses to renew a tenant’s lease after she denies him sex
  • A maintenance worker asks to see a tenant naked before completing repairs in her apartment
  • A plumber and an electrician whistle and make lewd comments about tenants’ bodies while working outside on the building
  • A super uses his key to enter a tenant’s apartment without permission or notice and walks in on her as she is showering
  • A super repeatedly gropes a tenant when they pass each other on the property
  • A broker suggests to a prospective tenant that having sex with him will increase her chances of renting an apartment because he will put in a good word to the landlord

Can my landlord get in trouble even if other people are harassing me?

Landlords must make sure their employees and agents don’t sexually harass tenants. Landlords can be held directly or vicariously liable for sexual harassment under the FHA for the harm caused to their tenants. This means that landlords who knew (or should have known) about sexual harassment—but failed to take action to stop it—are liable just as if they committed the acts themselves.3

What can I do if I'm being sexually harassed?

In late 2017—just as the #MeToo movement began making headlines—the DOJ launched a pilot program to combat sexual harassment in housing. In April 2018, the DOJ formally announced its “Sexual Harassment in Housing Initiative,” which encourages tenants to report instances of sexual harassment they encounter.

If you believe you have faced sexual harassment in housing, you can contact the DOJ about your experience. Experts will listen and discuss your options for pursuing a fair housing complaint. They may also take other action, such as communicating with the harasser on your behalf or helping you request a court order to protect your privacy during a lawsuit.

[1] 42 U.S.C. § 3602(d)

[2] United States v. Tjoelker, 1:17-cv-00883 (W.D. Mich. 2017)

[3] "HUD Memorandum: Questions and Answers on Sexual Harassment under the Fair Housing Act, No. 4" (Nov. 17, 2008)

The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice.