Can You Sue Your Landlord for Sexual Assault and Harassment?

by Julien G. Lamothe

Sexual abuse and harassment take many forms and can be perpetrated in many places. The legal avenues to seeking compensation can differ, too. Stories of civil lawsuits involving sexual misconduct in schools and the workplace fill the headlines, but what remedy exists for a landlord’s sexual assault or harassment of a tenant?

Comparing Wrongdoing in School, at Work, and in a Rented Home

Besides state laws, various federal laws give survivors of sexual assault and harassment the right to bring a civil suit against their abusers. For example, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act covers wrongdoing in the employer-employer relationship, and Title IX offers the same protection in educational settings.

Less public, but no less heinous, are situations in which the owner or manager of an apartment, condominium, house, mobile home, or other property sexually assaults or harasses a renter. In those situations, another federal law – Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act, also known as the Fair Housing Act – applies. The Act prohibits discrimination in housing based on race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin.

Fair Housing Act Sexual Harassment

Despite the term discrimination and not assault or harassment, several circuit courts have ruled that a landlord’s sexual harassment of a tenant can constitute sex discrimination under the Fair Housing Act. As described in one 10th Circuit case, the Act has two categories of sexual harassment under which claims may be brought: “quid pro quo” sexual harassment and “hostile housing environment” sexual harassment.

Quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when a landlord makes the tenant’s access or possession conditional on the tenant submitting to the sexual conduct, such as a landlord only allowing a tenant to rent property if the tenant performs a sex act on the landlord.

Hostile housing environment sexual harassment happens when a landlord’s sexual harassment interferes with a tenant’s use and enjoyment of the property. To prove such a claim, the tenant must show the sexual harassment was “sufficiently severe or pervasive” to alter the nature of the housing arrangement. Single, isolated incidents have not been found to meet that burden of proof, unless the single incident is egregious, such as the touching of an intimate body part.

Compensation for Sexual Harassment in a Housing Setting

In most suits involving the violation of a civil right, a successful plaintiff can recover compensatory damages for pain, suffering, lost wages, and medical care costs. In the Fair Housing Act context, a tenant could also recover moving expenses, rental payments, and other related sums. But the Act goes further; if the wrongdoing is extreme, a judge or jury may also compel the landlord to pay punitive damages to the tenant, along with the attorney’s fees and litigation costs the tenant incurred in bringing the lawsuit.

Contact an Attorney Who Will Fight for Your Rights

If you rent your home and your landlord sexually assaulted, abused, or harassed you, making it difficult or impossible to reside at the property, criminal charges are not the only recourse you can take against your tormentor. You may be entitled to the compensation described above.

When you call the Lamothe Law Firm to discuss your situation, the discussion will be confidential, and we will treat you with the utmost compassion and sensitivity.

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