Sexual harassment is a very real, very common issue in California and across the United States. The problem of sexual harassment is insidious. It can happen to anyone, anywhere and can be found in situations where there’s an imbalance of power, including landlord or property manager and tenant relationships. Sexual harassment in the housing sector happens all too frequently even if it’s considered unlawful. And while there are no national statistics showing the number of cases involving “sexual harassment in housing,” it doesn’t mean that these situations don’t happen. These types of cases include every kind of landlord or property manager misbehavior from extorting renters for sexual favors to entering a home while the tenant is unaware. Under California and federal fair housing laws, it’s illegal for landlords to sexually harass tenants. These laws may protect you if you’ve been a victim of sexual harassment.
Sexual Harassment Under California Law
Sexual harassment in California refers to sexual advances, as well as physical, visual, or verbal sexual contact or conduct. Sexual harassment can be many things such as unwanted sexual advances, sexual favors, touching, or comments of a sexual nature. It can happen to any person, male or female, and can as well be committed by an individual of the opposite sex or an individual of the same sex. Sexual harassment committed by a property manager, landlords, or any other person involved in providing housing services is a violation of the Fair Housing Act. Certain sexual harassment in the housing setting, although objectionable, may not necessarily be considered sexual harassment. What’s more, there’s no requirement for the harassment to have specifically stemmed out of sexual desire. The conduct can be motivated by hostility toward a particular sex. In some case, a landlord or property manager may be held responsible for failure to help a tenant who’s being harassed by a neighbor or another tenant.
Common sexual harassment situations involving landlords or property managers include:
- Verbal conduct such as inappropriate comments about a person or inappropriate sexual jokes
- Visual conduct including lewd drawings or gestures of a sexual nature such as leering or ogling looks
- Physical touching, including physical assaults on a tenant
- Offering incentives to a tenant in exchange for sexual conduct or favors.
- Unwanted and unwelcome attention
- Repeated requests for getting hit on or going out on dates
- Offensive notes or invitations
- Retaliatory actions, including threats to terminate the lease or withdraw services to a tenant who does not succumb to a landlord’s sexual advances or requests
Examples of sexual harassment in housing include:
- Your property manager tells you only she’ll keep renting to you if you go out on a date with her
- The landlord tells you that he’ll take $100 off your rent if you engage in sexual conduct with him
- Conditioning house repairs or other services required by law on performance of sexual favors
- Requesting you to pay rent in sexual advances instead of money
- A landlord, property manager, or their employee making sexual comments or using sexual words in front of you
- A landlord or property manager touching asking you to remove your clothing or touching your body
- A landlord or property manager refusing to help you after you’ve reported to them that you are being sexually harassed by another tenant
Hostile Environment Sexual Harassment
A hostile environment is defined as a situation where a landlord, property manager, one or their employees, or another tenant engages in sexual behavior that creates an environment of offensiveness, hostility, intimidation, or a less desirable atmosphere that affects the victim's psychological well-being. The behavior tends to alter the terms of tenancy. Under California law, the landlord or property manager is directly responsible for tenant-on-tenant harassment, provided they knew or should have known of the harassment and failed to take the necessary steps. As such, if an employee of a property management firm knows that one tenant is harassing another tenant but the fails to take prompt action to end the harassment, then the management company will be responsible. Claims under this form of sexual harassment can be filed even if the victim didn’t lose their housing or another form of economic loss. A hostile housing environment in California is not created by behavior that is isolated, trivial, occasional, or sporadic.
Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment
This occurs when a landlord, property manager, or one of their employees makes access or retention of housing services conditional upon the performance of sexual acts. It is basically an unwelcome request or demand to engage in conduct where conditions are made explicitly or implicitly on the rental, sale, or availability of a dwelling; the terms, conditions, and availability of a residential real estate transaction; and the provision of services or facility. This means that a landlord or property manager cannot condition the availability of normal practices, policies, services, rental terms, or the availability of a housing unit on the prospect or tenant engaging in certain conduct. For instance, a landlord or property manager cannot condition the availability of a rental unit on a potential client performing sexual favors and neither can he or she condition a repair request on a tenant performing sexual favors.
Just as it is the case with hostile environment sexual harassment, property managers and landlords need to ensure that they’re not engaging in quid pro quo sexual harassment. They also have to ensure that their employees and tenants are not engaging in this type of behavior because the law holds property managers and landlords liable for such conduct.
California Tenants Protected Against Landlord Retaliation
In California, a property manager or landlord’s action is retaliatory if they punish the tenant for the tenant’s exercise of a legal right. This means that the tenant is protected from certain retaliatory actions if the relationship with a landlord goes sour and the tenant decides to inform the authorities. In simple terms, the landlord cannot evict or withdraw normal services if the motivations for such acts stem from reprisal against the tenant from exercising their legal rights, including:
- Complaining to a government agency about sexual harassment
- Assembling and presenting views collectively for instance by organizing or joining a tenant union
- Complaining about sexual harassment to the landlord or property management firm
The kind of retaliatory acts considered illegal under California law include:
- Refusing to renew a lease or ending a month-to-month tenancy]
- Increasing rent
- Petty inconveniences like canceling cable access, removing laundry facilities, draining a pool, etc.
- Filing an eviction lawsuit if the tenant decides to take the case to court
In addition, California law presumes that the landlord or property manager has a retaliatory motive if they seek to withdraw services or evict the tenant within six months (180 days) after the tenant has exercised their legal rights following a sexual harassment ordeal. The tenant is required to prove that the landlord’s actions were retaliation and this is where California laws against landlord retaliation come into play.
Taking Legal Action Against a Harasser
If you were a victim of sexual harassment at your residence, you may take legal action against your landlord/property manager or your harasser. However, you cannot just file a complaint with the California courts and start your litigation. Cases of sexual harassment in California are much more complicated. If you suffered sexual harassment in your place of residence, the first step is to speak with a sexual harassment attorney, who can help you understand the process and how best to navigate it. Also, your lawyer may advise you to make a complaint to your landlord or property manager, either verbally or in writing. The lawyer may even help you write a complaint or coach you on how to deliver the verbal complaint. Some landlords and property managers will take the right steps to stop the harassment at this stage and this means that the case can be resolved without the need to file a lawsuit or litigate the case.
However, if you are not comfortable speaking directly with your property manager or landlord, you can review your apartment’s sexual harassment prevention policy with an attorney. In some cases, speaking directly with the building manager or landlord about the sexual harassment ordeal does not bear any fruit or they may intervene when it’s too late and you have already experienced emotional turmoil and distress. In such a case, your sexual harassment attorney may advise you to file a formal complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). The experienced and skilled lawyers at Sexual Harassment Attorney may help you with this. A formal complaint with the DFEH is a requirement that must be fulfilled before the victim files a civil lawsuit in the court system. The court may dismiss your lawsuit due to noncompliance if you fail to file a complaint with the DFEH.
Time is of the essence when it comes to filing complaints with the DFEH. As required by law, you must file your complaint within one (1) year of the date which the sexual harassment occurred. This serves as a statute of limitations for civil cases involving harassment. For this reason, you can be precluded from ever recovering damages for the sexual harassment you experienced if you fail to file your formal complaint with the DFEH in a timely manner.
Getting a “Right to Sue” Notification
Before you can file a civil lawsuit in California, you are required to wait until the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing sends a “right to sue” notification. You cannot file a lawsuit for damages until you receive this letter. You may as well contact the DFEH and ask them to issue the letter immediately if you’ve not yet received it. Otherwise, they may fail to send it after they’ve completed a formal investigation. You have one year from the notification date to file a lawsuit for damages arising from your sexual harassment claim.
Recovering Damages in a Sexual Harassment Case
The DFEH makes clear that no landlord or property manager should require anyone to withstand sexual harassment in housing. In addition, sexual harassment victims have the right to pursue monetary compensation from the harasser, in many cases the landlord, or the property management firm. A landlord or property manager can face liability for not taking action in an adequate and timely manner or for failure to put proper harassment rules in place.
Tenants can recover a wide range of monetary compensation in a civil lawsuit against their property manager or landlord for sexual harassment. Some of the damages in a sexual harassment lawsuit may include treble damages, actual damages, attorney’s fees and costs, punitive damages, and civil penalties that vary in amount and by city. In some cases, there are additional awards for elderly or disabled tenants. Compensation can be for emotional distress, pain and suffering, psychiatric harm, mental anguish, or psychological harm.
A tenant may also pursue other claims against the property manager or landlord that will produce other money damages are for wrongful or constructive eviction, breach of contract and covenant and covenant of quite, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Constructive eviction: If the sexual harassment situation forces a tenant out of a rent-controlled home, the tenant can sue for the cost to replace the home. The rent differential may even be trebled if the landlord is motivated by the desire to get a tenant out from under rent control.
Breach of contract and covenant of quiet enjoyment: In every residential tenancy, there is an implied covenant of quiet enjoyment, warranting that the renter will enjoy their homes in peace. Under California Civil Code § 1927, a tenant can sue back for rent if the landlord or property manager has substantially interfered with the renter’s peaceful enjoyment of a home. The tenant can also file a breach of contract claim against the property manager or landlord if under constant threat of eviction or the services have been withdrawn.
Contacting Sexual Harassment Attorney Near Me
No one tenant deserves to suffer from sexual harassment, and landlords and property managers deserve to face legal accountability for their inactions or actions. If you’re a victim of sexual harassment in your residence, you need experienced legal representation on your side. The lawyers at Sexual Harassment Attorney can determine if you have a valid legal claim. We can then make sure that you file your DFEH complaint and civil lawsuit in an adequate and prompt manner and that you comply with all applicable statutes. We represent clients throughout California. Call us today at 800-905-1856 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation and case evaluation with one of our attorneys.