Are you familiar with the story of Cindy Chau? If you’re a member of the housing and real estate industry, you should be.
Chau thought she had lucked into an incredible living situation—$1200 per month for a rent-controlled, one-bedroom apartment in the San Francisco Bay Area—until her property manager allegedly began sexually harassing her. Chau claims that in addition to sending her provocative text messages, the property manager regularly made inappropriate comments during routine maintenance visits, and even propositioned her in her apartment.
How about the case of Gary Walden? In 2016, the U.S. Department of Justice charged Walden with sexually harassing multiple female residents and prospective residents over a 9-year period. Allegations against the West Virginia landlord ranged from unwelcome verbal sexual advances to groping tenants, entering apartments unannounced, offering tangible housing benefits in exchange for sex acts (otherwise known as quid pro quo), and threatening to evict tenants who spoke out against his behavior. Last year, he settled with the DoJ for $600,000.
These stories are just a small sampling of a nationwide phenomenon. Sexual harassment committed by landlords, property managers, maintenance workers, loan officers, or other people with control over housing is not uncommon. And with increased media attention, as well as renewed pressure from regulators at levels both state and federal, real estate and housing providers are exercising extreme caution to prevent harassment at properties they own.
Here on the Compli blog, we’ve published a multitude of articles and resources about sexual harassment, exploring how the #MeToo movement and other recent news and activist efforts have changed the way we perceive and address this all-too-common problem. We’ve discussed the sweeping new anti-harassment laws passed in states such as New York and California. We’ve also investigated how employers can take a proactive approach by investing in robust workforce training and reporting systems.
For property managers, these issues carry even greater weight. The Fair Housing Act, enforced by the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin, and disability.
This means that under the FHA, sexual harassment is a form of discrimination, which falls upon the Justice Department to investigate.
And these days, the Department is scrutinizing property managers for evidence of discrimination more closely than ever. Last October, coinciding with the initial mainstream spread of the #MeToo movement, the DoJ announced an initiative to combat sexual harassment in housing. Since then, the Department has opened 34 new sexual harassment matters (nearly 5 times that of the previous year), and filed 6 lawsuits challenging alleged sexual harassment in housing.
Unfortunately for property managers, harassment risk is not only greater than in other industries, but harassment prevention more complex. Harassers often victimize people in their own units, away from colleagues or managers who could quickly file reports. Tenants who experience harassment, many of whom are low-income or disenfranchised, may hesitate to complain to their housing providers for fear of losing their homes. When cases do get reported, discipline and termination of on-site employees may involve eviction, leading to delays and inaction on the part of apprehensive property managers.
The good news is that Compli can help. Property management companies are already learning how our automated workforce compliance management solution simplifies training, reporting, complaint management, employee discipline and termination, and other crucial workforce processes.
See how to meet regulatory demands, handle employee issues, and save money—all while keeping your tenants protected. Schedule a demo with us.