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Sexual Harassment in Housing

The Sexual Harassment in Housing Initiative is an effort to combat sexual harassment in housing led by the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. The goal of the Initiative is to address sexual harassment by landlords, property managers, maintenance workers, loan officers or other people who have control over housing.

Sexual harassment in housing includes demands for sex or sexual acts in order to buy, rent, or continue renting a home. It also includes other unwelcome sexual conduct that makes it hard to keep living in or feel comfortable in your home.

The following may be examples of sexual harassment in housing:

  • My landlord made a lot of comments about having sex with me. I ignored him. When I fell behind on rent, he said there was another way I could pay. I said no and he evicted me.
  • The housing authority inspector wouldn’t approve the apartment I wanted to rent with my voucher unless I performed a sexual act on him. I agreed in order to get my family off the street.
  • The maintenance man won’t fix anything in my apartment unless I have sex with him. I don’t know what I’m going to do about the broken heater when it gets even colder.
  • I went to look at a home to rent and the owner told me he would lower the rent if I had sex with him.
  • I wanted to buy a home. When I went to look at it, the loan officer grabbed my breasts. I said no and left immediately. I never heard about the home or the loan again.
  • The security guard in my apartment building has been talking about my body and sending me naked pictures. I asked him to stop. I came home one day and found him naked in my bed.
  • The owner of the home I rent makes comments about my body, clothes, and the sexual acts he wants me to perform on him.

Sexual Harassment Lawsuit Against New York Property Owner

In August 2019, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that Douglas S. Waterbury and his co-defendants will be obligated to pay $850,000 in damages and civil penalties to resolve two Fair Housing Act lawsuits alleging that Waterbury sexually harassed numerous female tenants and prospective tenants for nearly three decades at properties he owned in and around Oswego, New York. The Department filed one of the lawsuits and a group of private plaintiffs brought the other.

Under the Consent Decree in United States of America v. Douglas S. Waterbury, et al., which still must be approved by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York, Defendants have agreed to pay a total of $450,000, which includes $400,000 in monetary damages to former tenants and potential tenants who were harmed as a result of the sexual harassment, as well as a $50,000 civil penalty. Additionally, the Defendants will pay $400,000 to compensate nine plaintiffs in the related private suit. The Consent Decree also bars Douglas S. Waterbury from participating in the rental or management of residential properties.

“The sexual harassment of the vulnerable female applicants and tenants in this case by their landlord is an egregious and intolerable violation of federal civil rights law,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband. “The Department of Justice will continue to pursue any depraved landlords and others who prey upon vulnerable women.”

“No woman should have to endure harassment and discrimination to obtain housing,” said Grant C. Jaquith, United States Attorney for the Northern District of New York. “Landlords who sexually harass their tenants in our district will be held accountable under the Fair Housing Act.”

The Department’s complaint, filed in 2018, alleged that Douglas S. Waterbury, his business partner, and two related entities operated an extensive real estate business involving more than 50 residential rental properties in and around Oswego, New York. The lawsuit further alleged that Douglas S. Waterbury subjected former tenants and potential tenants of these homes to sexual harassment, including unwanted sexual intercourse, sexual advances and comments, groping or other touching of their bodies without consent, and offers to reduce or eliminate security deposits and rent in exchange for sexual contact. The complaint further alleged that Waterbury took or threatened to take adverse action against residents when they refused or objected to his advances.

Since launching the initiative, the Department of Justice has filed 10 lawsuits alleging a pattern or practice of sexual harassment in housing. The Justice Department has filed or settled 15 sexual harassment cases since January 2017 and has recovered over $2.6 million for victims of sexual harassment in housing.

Source: Department of Jutstice


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