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Sexual harassment is a housing issue

People living in Michigan co-ops generally appreciate living in a well-managed building. They expect to be able to live and conduct their lives free of harassment, fear and intimidation. Some managers or employees of the property, however, may engage in sexual harassment against residents. Such harassment is illegal, and tenants have a right to protection against it.

The problem of sexual harassment in housing is significant. In some cases, landlords, property managers, custodians or security may make unwanted advances toward tenants. Another tactic is to threaten a tenant with eviction or refusal to make necessary repairs unless the tenant agrees to a date or to perform a sex act.

This sort of conduct violates federal law and is the target of an investigation by the United States Department of Justice. The DOJ has announced that it will be developing a pilot project in Washington DC and Western Virginia, working with state agencies and law enforcement to address this issue. It should be noted, however, that sexual harassment in housing is against the law everywhere, and residents absolutely have the right to report such conduct both to their co-op boards and to legal authorities.

Sexual harassment can pose a particular challenge for co-op boards as the board may be held responsible for the conduct of its employees. Even if the co-op board contracts with an outside property management company, sexual harassment cases can still reflect badly on the board.

Board members who are concerned about sexual harassment and other forms of co-op housing discrimination may benefit from speaking with an experienced attorney. The lawyer may be able to review the board's policies regarding screening management companies as well as procedures for reporting and promptly addressing harassment in all its forms.

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