Resident Bullying and Fair Housing – What You Need to Know

Resident bullying can create some very uncomfortable situations. But what responsibility do you have as a housing provider or staff member? What do you need to know when it comes to fair housing and bullying?

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

Resident Bullying and Fair Housing - What You Need to Know

Bullying and harassment can look very much the same on the surface. A not-so-nice person targets another and tries to intimidate or embarrass them. As awkward as it might be to witness this, staff cannot just ignore it, especially if that bullying or harassment is based on another person’s protected class. From a legal standpoint, not only is the bully in violation of their lease they are also in violation of the Fair Housing Act.

What are the responsibilities of staff if they witness one resident bullying or harassing another resident?

All staff needs to be trained that if at any time they witness one resident bullying or harassing another resident it must be reported to management immediately. It is not up to them to decide or figure out if the situation they observed was just one resident being mean or hurtful or if the illegal harassment was based on the protected category of the other resident. Staff should be trained to report in detail what they saw regarding how one resident’s actions interfered with another resident’s ability to live on that property in a peaceful manner.

Management then needs to thoroughly document the incident and launch an investigation. If harassment is established, then lease action needs to be taken against the perpetrator. A lease violation notice or even possibly a lease termination depending on the severity of the circumstances.

What are the potential risks to the housing provider if the staff fails to address a resident who is a bully or a harasser?

Simply put, you are leaving yourself exposed to a costly court case. Suppose it is established that the harassment that took place was based on a protected category and the property did nothing. In that case, the victimized resident has a cause of action against both the harasser and the housing provider. It is illegal for one resident to harass another and for a housing provider to do nothing about it. Keep in mind that the housing provider will more than likely be the focus of the legal action due to the fact that they generally have deeper pockets than an individual would.

Resident Bullying and Harassment – Final Takeaway

A best practice for every housing provider is to have a zero-tolerance policy regarding bullying or harassment. Regardless of why one tenant is bullying another, action needs to be taken to ensure that every resident’s right to peaceful living is upheld. Reputation counts a lot, and people are ready to share their experiences with the whole world. What will your property be recognized for?

Jonathan (00:12): Hello everyone. Welcome to the Fair Housing Insiders. We are on episode 57, which is absolutely amazing that we've come this far. And today we're talking about a super important discussion involving bullying and harassment. But before we jump into that, couple housekeeping items. Thank you so much for subscribing to this channel. Make sure you've signed up for our newsletter. Our newsletter contains a lot of extra bonus information and content, as well as opportunities to enter into our community questions contest. So make sure you've subscribed to our newsletter for that and follow us on Instagram at Fair Housing Institute. We thank everyone for your support. So today we're gonna get into some interesting questions about bullying and harassment. What's the difference? What do the staff have to be ready for? What, when they're dealing with their residents and those potential situations and a lot more. So let's start this time with looking at a scenario, and that will help set this stage for our discussion today. And then we'll kick it to Kathi for her comments on, on what's going on and what we can learn from it.

Grumpy Resident (01:27): Hey, Mary, you look ridiculous. Why do you pretend to be a woman when you are actually a tired old man? You make me sick.

Jonathan (01:36): Okay, Kathi, get us started. What did you think about that scenario? Why, why are we talking about this today with our fair Housing insiders community?

Kathi (01:48): Great question, Jonathan. Unfortunately this is one of those situations in housing management that is very unpleasant to address, and I like to talk about it because it has fair housing ramifications and we want to make sure staff know that they cannot ignore these situations when they occur. I get it that they're very unpleasant and, and hopefully it doesn't happen a lot. I mean, there are some people who might live in your property who are just downright mean and look for opportunities to try to get under other people's skin to frighten them, to intimidate them, to embarrass them. And by the way, that's the definition of bullying is doing just that from a legal perspective, I always like to remind housing providers that if that intimidation, that need to frighten somebody, embarrass them. If that is being done because of the other person's protected category, then it is not only a just mean and nasty thing to do, it is a lease violation. It is also a violation of the Fair Housing Act, and that's why I think we need to talk about it in our session today.

Jonathan (03:33): Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for helping the audience understand the difference between bullying and, and her and harassment. So we needed that definition, so appreciate that. So looking at our scenario and, and well, yeah, that was, that was real. What happens? I, and I appreciate that it's not, we, we see that every day. We watch it on the news all the time about people who are just plain mean and, and ignorant. But from a property management staff perspective, if they see something like this scenario, what are their responsibilities? What should they be doing about it?

Kathi (04:17): So the important thing is that all staff, including maintenance employees, be trained to report these types of situations when they occur. The reality is that a lot of time, let's say a maintenance employee witnesses a similar situation, it's not important for them to try to decide whether this is just a mean person who's bullying someone or whether this is a case of illegal harassment based on that resident's gender identity. They don't need to figure that out. So what they do need to do is report that one resident interfered with another resident's ability to live in that property peacefully and you know, without having their you know, their experience damaged by another resident. So the staff reports it to management, management makes a record of it and investigates the situation to find out exactly what happened, what was said, and then if it is a situation like it sounds like, then lease action needs to be taken against the perpetrator, whether it's just a lease violation notice or a termination notice, depends on how serious the situation is.

Jonathan (05:51): Got it. Got it. Thank you for that. Yeah. So don't, you know, make a report and, and make sure that it's all documented is the, the summary I come away with, with your comments there. So let's flip it around now. What happens if property management, professional maintenance, leasing professional, whoever is on site, they witness something and or something is reported to them and they don't do anything about it, What, what are the potential risks or fallout from ignoring a situation like we see in our scenario?

Kathi (06:37): And that that's where why we need to talk about it? Because if it is illegal harassment, and in this case it looks like it is, it looks like this resident is harassing, intimidating, embarrassing another resident because of their gender identity, which is a protected category under sex discrimination under the Fair Housing Act. If that happens and management knows about it, and they do because somebody witnessed it in this situation, a staff person, they don't report it, they don't take action on it. That resident who has been harassed has a cause of action against the housing provider. So it is illegal for the resident to harass the other resident. It is also illegal for a housing provider to ignore those kind of situations. So that victim of the harassment can sue the housing provider as well as the other resident. And usually they're gonna be more interested in suing the housing provider because there are deeper pockets. If they win, they can collect a lot more money usually than they could from another resident. So it is really important that training staff to not walk away and turn around and look the other way when they're dealing with a bully. Nobody likes to confront a bully with their actions, but it is imperative when we talk about it from this standpoint that that's exactly what a housing provider does.

Jonathan (08:29): Excellent point. You know, and it's, you know, we're, that's our job in property management and that's why we have classes and videos like this, you know, we represent the rights of our residents. So there's, there's definitely some passion that's in behind the, the laws that do exist. And you and I were talking for a minute, Kathi, before we hit the, the record button today, and I would love your comments just on, you know, with how easily any situation gets into the public eye and then you're dealing with the public court of opinion. You know, whether or not a resident has committed a fair housing violation, is, is only just part of the, could be only just part of the problem a property management company would be facing. What are your thoughts on just, just the scope of how media can inflate situations that may take place?

Kathi (09:35): Exactly. So whether the example, the scenario that we used is bullying or, or sexual harassment. Think about it. If someone videos that and puts it up on social media and suggests that those kind of people meaning bullies, meaning you know, the, the kind of people that can make the lives of their neighbors miserable, that's the kind of people that lives in this property. So it's important that management be able to address that by saying, No, no, these are serious lease violations, whether it's bullying or sexual harassment, Right. And addresses it does not tolerate it and takes whatever action is needed to make it stop. It's absolutely that management can feel like they're on top of that and not nearly shrugging it off and looking the other way and, and ignoring it. And so that's what we wanna encourage here today is we wanna empower the people in our fair housing community to feel good about addressing those situations if they ever happen on their property.

Jonathan (11:05): Very good. Yeah. Excellent. Thank you for, Thank you for helping us with that particular point. No, that's bullying is definitely a, a big word. It is happening in so many different levels. You know, we're focused on, on housing right now, but we know we're, we see it when it comes to school, workplace and, and so many other scenarios. So it is definitely a big topic that's on the minds of the public. So it's good that we're chatting about it today and making sure that we are reminding our community of their responsibility. So thank you so much, Kathi. Awesome. Appreciate that.

Kathi (11:42): You know, Jonathan, let me jump in here for just a minute. Sure. I, I don't think I mentioned, yeah, I've had a lot of experience dealing with those kind of situations. I've seen it particularly, and oddly enough in senior buildings and 55 and older communities. I don't know why, but I would say that there is sometimes more intolerance of the rights of neighbors in senior buildings. So I think housing providers that manage own those types of properties need to be particularly on guard for this.

Jonathan (12:22): Okay, Very good. Yeah, thank you for adding that in. That's, that's really, really important. Okay. So great topic, great episode 57. Great reminders. Are we ready for our fast five?

Kathi (12:44): We are, but I've gotta get faster cause I never quite make it, do I?

Jonathan (12:49): Yeah. Well I think based on our last recording sessions Michael was kind enough to give us an extra 30 seconds, so That's right. Yeah. Yeah. So we're, we're at 90 seconds, but it's still, it's, it's, it's tough. So let's see how you do today, Kathi. I'm sure you're gonna crush it. . All right, here we go. So what is bullying?

Kathi (13:13): Bullying is attempting to intimidate, embarrass, threaten another person.

Jonathan (13:20): How is illegal harassment different from bull from bullying?

Kathi (13:25): Bullying are is the same actions but taken because of the victims membership in one or more of the protected categories.

Jonathan (13:36): Are there least provisions involved in a resident bullying another resident?

Kathi (13:42): Absolutely. There are the least provisions that guarantee the ability for peace and enjoyment in your apartment home would be the provision that gets violated in any case of bullying.

Jonathan (14:00): Is there a risk of legal liability for staff to ignore res ignore a resident who is bullying another resident?

Kathi (14:08): Absolutely, because we never know why the bullying is occurring and it might be occurring as illegal harassment because of a protected category. Therefore, you must take action otherwise the housing provider management can be liable if it fail to take action to make the bullying and illegal harassment stop.

Jonathan (14:32): Should staff try to determine whether a mean resident is a bully versus a harasser?

Kathi (14:39): I would suggest no, because it's gonna take too much time to figure that out, whether you rather you really ever could understand the reasons why a bully does what they do. So I think you just should assume it's illegal harassment and take action based on that.

Jonathan (15:02): So close. So close.

Kathi (15:04): How'd I do?

Jonathan (15:04): Yeah, a minute. 50. Actually a minute. 50.58. So,

Kathi (15:12): Oh, I'm never gonna do it, Jonathan, so frustrating.

Jonathan (15:15): I know. You, you're not, so you don't get the one, the imaginary one. Quintillion bajillion Fair Housing.

Kathi (15:22): That's right, .

Jonathan (15:25): But a, a great summary. You know, so thank you for being available for, for today's episode, episode 57. You know, the difference between bullying and and harassment and how it applies to property management professionals. Excellent topic, timely topic. And we thank you. We know we've had some contributions from the community asking for us to, to touch on this subject. So thank you community for, for being part of that voice in bringing these topics out so that we can talk about them for, for everyone who is a part of the Fair Housing Insiders community. So thank you everyone for turning into the show. Please make sure you share this with your network. Give us a thumbs up on YouTube subscribe to us via our newsletter. We love your feedback. And if you have any questions related to this episode, be sure to make sure you put those in our YouTube channel as well. Until next time, we'll see you everyone. Thank you again, Kathi. Take care.

Kathi (16:21): Bye.

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