Apartment Living BlogFair Housing › Fair Housing Expert: Lessons from Sexual Harassment Complaints

Dear Fair Housing Expert,

 

Can you help me understand why some fair housing and sexual harassment complaints are handled by HUD and others through the DOJ? What are some best practices my property can use to avoid such complaints in the first place (and avoid related damages and legal fees)?

 

-Confused


Dear Confused,

 

Technically speaking, fair housing complaints and sexual harassment complaints are different, but they can easily be referred back and forth to HUD (Housing and Urban Development) and the DOJ (Department of Justice).

 

Usually, sexual harassment complaints are filed through the DOJ against an employer, while fair housing issues are filed with HUD against a property management team or property owner.

 

A sexual harassment case can arise from a fair housing complaint, usually when the basis of the complaint is based on gender. This was the case in South Dakota, when a resident filed a fair housing complaint with HUD stating that the manager demanded sexual favors from her in order to continue receiving her housing allotments from the Housing Authority.

 

A similar situation in West Virginia was settled out of court with HUD when the landlord agreed to pay $120,000 in damages and civil penalties to settle allegations against three agents. After the settlement, HUD referred these cases to the Department of Justice to investigate for potential criminal action.

 

The largest settlement thus far involved more than 40 maintenance employees working for the Baltimore Public Housing Authority. This settlement totals $8 million to be shared by the 19 women who brought the case, along with others who came forward over the next six months. Only $850,000 of the $8M will be paid by the agency’s insurance. The remaining $7.15M will be paid from their reserve account funded by Federal dollars.

 

Lesson #1:

While the individuals involved in these cases committed sexual harassment through requiring sexual favors for continued residency, and for repairs for health and safety issues, it is important to note that sexual harassment does not have to be obvious to still be a problem.  

 

Lesson #2:

Claims are filed against all team members, not just management or ownership. Maintenance team members have a larger target on their backs as they usually have more day-to-day contact with residents. In fact, more fair housing cases have been filed against maintenance employees for saying something offensive or writing something that indicates a bias against a person’s gender. If they are not trained on what constitutes a sexual harassment or other fair housing complaint, then you are opening yourself up to those who may file against you.

 

Lesson #3:

While most of these cases are settled through HUD, and usually with a small fine, or perhaps even just a requirement for additional training, the door is still open for this type of claim to be referred to the Department of Justice for potential criminal action. Be sure your staff clearly understands the fair housing law and also receives sexual harassment training. Having proof of such training will go a long way in your defense should a claim ever be filed.

 

Share your experience with fair housing complaints and lessons learned in the comment box below.

 


Vicki Sharp, NALP, CAPS, CDPM began her 40+ year career in Property Management after serving an initial enlistment in the US Army. From Leasing Agent to Community Manager to Regional Manager to Vice President, Vicki has truly “walked the walk” of property management, handling a portfolio of up to 10,000 units.

 

Vicki has worked for several property management companies, both privately held and REIT portfolios. Because of her history as an Army Veteran, she was recruited and worked for eight years in the Privatized Military Housing niche of the industry.  

 

Because she has worked “on the front lines” of the industry, she relates well to her audiences, sharing real life stories and offering great solutions based on actual experiences in our business.

 

To discuss seminar presentations or consulting work, please call Vicki at (512) 550-2021 or email to vicki.sharp@thesharpsolution.net.

Vicki Sharp

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