Sexual Harassment in Housing is Against the Law
Renters/Buyers are Protected Against Sexual Harassment
The Montana Human Rights Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 prohibit discrimination in housing based upon sex. Sex discrimination includes sexual harassment.
What is Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment of a potential buyer, renter or tenant includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when:
- submission to the conduct is explicitly or implicitly made a term or condition of renting or purchasing a housing accommodation;
- submission or rejection of the conduct is used as the basis for refusing to rent or sell a housing accommodation;
- the conduct has the effect of unreasonably interfering with renting, making continued tenancy significantly less desirable, or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive living environment.
Examples of Sexual Harassment in Housing
Sexual harassment is determined on a case-by-case basis. Acts which are offensive to one tenant or buyer may not be offensive to another. However, in addition to sexual assault, the following acts by a co-tenant, owner, on-site manager, property manager or agent may constitute sexual harassment:
- propositions or pressure to engage in sexual activity;
- repeated body contact;
- repeated sexual jokes, innuendoes or comments;
- constant leering or staring;
- inappropriate comments concerning appearance;
- a pattern of renting to individuals because of their sex over more qualified persons;
- any harassing behavior directed toward a person because of the person's gender.
Impact of Sexual Harassment
Women are not the only victims of sexual harassment. Men may also be harassed. Renters often do not report harassment out of ignorance of the law or fear of reprisal. Some of the impacts of sexual harassment are:
- fear, emotional stress and related illnesses;
- violation of privacy;
- loss of sales;
- disgruntled renters;
- high turnover in renters;
Owners and agents may be liable for monetary compensation and other forms of relief to buyers or renters who are victims of sexual harassment by:
- the owner or manager;
- on-site managers, whether or not the owner knew of the sexual harassment;
- co-tenants, when the owner knew or should have known of the sexual harassment and failed to take immediate corrective action;
- visitors to the premises when the owner knew or should have known of the sexual harassment and failed to take immediate corrective action.
What Owners Should Do
The best tool for eliminating sexual harassment is prevention. The following steps will aid in preventing sexual harassment:
- develop and post a written policy defining and prohibiting sexual harassment and providing an effective procedure for reporting sexual harassment and disciplining those who engage in it;
- provide training for all managers and employees in sexual harassment prevention;
- express strong disapproval of any sexual conduct in housing, including jokes and comments which may be offensive;
- immediately investigate any report of sexual harassment by tenants or employees;
- take immediate corrective action upon determining that sexual harassment occurred;
- inform renters and buyers of their right to report sexual harassment to the Montana Human Rights Bureau or the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development.
What Renters Should Do
If you are offended by sexual jokes, comments or other sexual or gender-based conduct in you housing accommodations, immediately inform the manager. If you complaints are not resolved, you should take the following steps:
- report the sexual harassment to the manager and the owner;
- keep written records of the dates and facts of all sexual harassment and the names of witnesses;
- contact the Montana Human Rights Bureau.