Sexual harassment in housing has been getting a lot attention in the media lately. This may be in part due to a powerful video released by the United States Department of Justice. While much of the conduct described in the DOJ’s video is subject to criminal penalties, many public and private residential property owners can be held liable in civil court as well.

Sexual harassment in housing can result in civil liability even when the conduct is significantly less egregious than the severe harassment described by the video. For example, a landlord who frequently makes sexual remarks or suggestions to a tenant may result in a claim for damages even if the landlord never acts on the comments.

The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in most public and private housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status, and disability. In New York, discrimination in housing also is prohibited by the Human Rights Law. Because sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination, sexual harassment in housing violates both State and federal law.

Property owners should keep in mind that they can be held civilly liable for the actions of an employee or agent, too. In light of the volume of recent reports, property owners should take steps now to ensure they’re not opening themselves up to claims and their resulting burdens and expense.

If you have questions about compliance with the Fair Housing Act or New York Human Rights Law or if you’re facing a claim, the attorneys at The Coppola Firm can help.