Landlord Fined for Same-Sex Harassment
Landlords can be penalized for sexually harassing their tenants - even those of the same sex. A landlord was allegedly interested in pursuing a sexual relationship with one of his male tenants. When those efforts were rebuffed, he created a "sexually hostile housing environment" for that tenant. The landlord allegedly:
- made "sexually offensive comments and gestures" to the tenant and his guests;
- advised the tenant's friends that he wished to have sexual intercourse with the tenant;
- "spied" on the tenant (through a curtained, ground-floor window) while the tenant was engaged in sexual activity;
- entered the tenant's apartment (and bedroom) without advance notice;
- photographed the tenant and his guests as they entered and exited the building;
- simultaneously exited and followed the tenant when the tenant would leave the building;
- threatened the tenant with "physical force;" and
- eavesdropped on the tenant's conversations.
An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) with the New York State Division of Human Rights (NYSDHR) awarded the tenant $7,500 in compensatory damages. On administrative appeal to the NYSDHR, the landlord alleged the tenant was a "flagrant exhibitionist," who refused to properly cover his ground-floor windows and who engaged in sexual activity in full view of passersby.
The NYSDHR Commissioner concluded that the record supported the ALJ's findings that the owner's conduct was "severe and pervasive" and adversely impacted the tenant's ability to use and enjoy the apartment. The Commissioner increased the compensatory award to $10,000 for the tenant's "mental anguish," and further directed that the landlord "cease and desist" from engaging in such conduct in the future.
When the landlord failed to pay the amount awarded by the agency, the New York Appellate Division, Second Department, ruled in the tenant's favor since all the requisite elements of a "hostile housing environment" had been demonstrated. The court held that to prevail on such a claim it must be shown that the complainant was subjected to unwelcome and extensive sexual harassment , in the form of sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature, which were not solicited or desired by the complainant, and which were viewed as undesirable or offensive.
The court concluded that the $10,000 compensatory-damage award was "entirely proper" under the circumstances.