May 22, 2020

U.S. Attorneys Warn Residential Landlords Against Discrimination Based on Sexual Harassment

Holland & Knight Regulatory Litigation Blog
Lynn E. Calkins | Jessica L. Farmer

As operators experience more and more residents who are reeling from the financial stress caused from job loss in light of the COVID-19 crisis, U.S. Attorneys' offices across the country are focusing their efforts on ensuring that requests for rent deferments are not responded to with demands for sexual favors.

The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin or disability.

Although the U.S. Supreme Court has not yet addressed the issue, many lower courts and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) view sexual harassment as a covered a form of sex discrimination under the Fair Housing Act. As a result, the U.S. Attorney General's Office is working with U.S. Attorneys, housing advocacy groups and community organizations across the county to identify residents who have experienced sexual harassment by property managers, landlords and maintenance workers who have control over housing.

In order to protect against these potential claims, take time proactively to ensure that your employees and agents are continuing to follow your ongoing procedures and processes for rent deferment requests, paper those efforts in writing and provide an outlet to your residents to report any such behavior so that appropriate remedial steps can be immediately taken.

DISCLAIMER: Please note that the situation surrounding COVID-19 is evolving and that the subject matter discussed in these publications may change on a daily basis. Please contact your responsible Holland & Knight lawyer or the authors of this blog for timely advice.

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