Guest Column: How to get fair housing for all

Alyssa Kroeger

How bad can housing get and what can we do about it?
Question: I recently had a terrible experience with my landlord and want to know how to exercise my rights and make sure he never treats any other tenant the way he treated me. As soon as my ex and I moved in, my landlord started hitting on me. For example, he used to call my cell phone, lavish unwelcome compliments on me, and ask me out on dates. I didn’t want any problems, so I would usually just laugh it off and say, “You know I’ve got a boyfriend!” Recently, my boyfriend and I broke up. As soon as my landlord found out my ex moved, my landlord kicked things into overdrive.
He started showing up at my door without notice, and even let himself in to my house when I was at work for no apparent reason. One night, I even caught him peeking through my living room window. I didn’t feel safe in my own home anymore. Luckily, I found a new place to move. However, as soon as I gave notice, my landlord told me he wouldn’t give back my security deposit unless I met him in a hotel room! What are my rights? How can I prevent this sort of thing from happening to other tenants?
Answer: Federal and state fair housing laws make it illegal to discriminate against person because of gender or sex. Sexual harassment in housing is a form of sex discrimination. Courts recognize two types of sexual harassment: (1) quid pro quo (i.e., when a housing provider expects or grants a favor in return for something); and (2) hostile environment (i.e., when a housing provider creates an environment that is intimidating, hostile, offensive, or otherwise significantly less desirable for a resident). Sexual harassment may be either severe or pervasive — just one incident may be enough to make a claim that a landlord has violated the law.
You’ve described a troubling pattern of behavior that appears to have been based on your sex. To exercise your right to live free from sexual harassment in your housing, you can contact your local private non-profit fair housing agency for advice and assistance. You can also file an administrative complaint for housing discrimination with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the federal agency that has the authority to investigate and enforce federal fair housing laws, or the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), the equivalent state agency. Finally, you have the right to file a lawsuit for housing discrimination directly in either federal or state court. As a result of exercising your fair housing rights, you can recover damages as well as require that your landlord cease from harassing any other tenants, now or in the future.
Housing discrimination is still very much alive in South Santa Clara County communities. If you believe you may have experienced discrimination in your housing because of your race, national origin, religion, familial status, disability, sex/gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, ancestry, immigration status, primary language, source of income, age, or any other arbitrary characteristic (like veteran status or occupation), please contact your local fair housing agency for assistance. Eradicating housing discrimination is only possible through robust education and enforcement efforts
The Fair Housing Center of Project Sentinel has offices throughout Northern California, and offers free, confidential fair housing counseling and education services to residents of all its jurisdictions. For more information, contact Project Sentinel at [email protected], visit our website at www.housing.org, follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/psprojectsentinel, or call us at (888) 324-7468. Se habla espanol.
Alyssa Kroeger
Fair Housing Coordinator

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