Hostile Living Environment

An area of fair housing law that is still developing deals with situations where a tenant alleges he/she is being harassed by either his/her neighbors or a person who owns or manages the property. If the harassment is based on the tenant’s membership in a protected category and the harassment is severe enough that it deprives the tenant of the full enjoyment of his/her dwelling, the harassment may create a “hostile living environment.”

If the complainant reports an allegation of harassment (i.e., based on his/her membership in one or more protected categories) to a person who has the power to address the issue, such as the property owner, the property manager, or a condominium board member, these entities have a duty to address the situation and attempt to resolve the harassment. If the complaint is not related to the complainant’s membership in a protected category and is, essentially, two neighbors who do not get along, there is no duty to address the situation under fair housing laws. However, many times the nature of a complaint cannot be clearly understood without some initial investigation into the situation. Even if there does not appear to be a legitimate complaint of harassment (i.e., does not involve one or more protected categories), most leases and condominium by-laws have a clause that prohibits residents from interfering with other residents’ enjoyment of their living units.
If the alleged behavior is due to someone’s sex, sexual orientation, race, or any other protected category, then that person is protected under fair housing laws. If hostilities are based on reasons such as music being played too loudly, parking in the wrong space, or not cleaning up a common space after use, these situations would not be protected under fair housing laws.