New rule amends HUD’s fair housing regulations – “quid pro quo” – “hostile environment harassment” – “direct liability” – “vicarious liability” – “direct liability for negligent failure to correct and end discrimination” by third parties

A new HUD regulation, effective October 14, 2016 (i.e., immediately), amends and adds to its regulations in several important aspects including definitions of quid pro quo and hostile environment, and further specifying direct liability, vicarious liability, and liability for failure to take actions to correct and end discrimination by third parties. The regulation also provides specific examples, including examples for community associations such as in circumstances of liability where it is established that the community association knew or should have known about unlawful discrimination between tenants but failed to take corrective action.

The regulation states that it is clarifying liability, but in practice the regulation expands liability by “clarifying” circumstances of liability. Further, although the regulation adds definitions, as it typical, the definitions still are broad and vague, and, thus, arguably expand, and certainly do not limit liability.

Below I have copied and pasted liberally from the regulation. As a practice in this blog I try not to copy and paste long provisions from a new law. However, in this case I have done so because the definitions, comments and examples are extremely important and you really cannot understand the new regulation and its scope without reading them. Still, I have only copied and pasted certain provisions from the regulation – the actual regulation is more extensive, and you will need to read and evaluate the entire regulation.

The following are the specific sections quoted from the regulation that I have copied and pasted. The sections are separated by “—————————-“. I have also added bolding to some of the headings, to make it somewhat easier to read.

Dave Tate, Esq., San Francisco and California

Here is a link to the Federal Register page that contains the complete regulation: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2016/09/14/2016-21868/quid-pro-quo-and-hostile-environment-harassment-and-liability-for-discriminatory-housing-practices

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From HUD, an overview:

This final rule amends HUD’s fair housing regulations to formalize standards for use in investigations and adjudications involving allegations of harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, familial status, or disability. The rule specifies how HUD will evaluate complaints of quid pro quo (“this for that”) harassment and hostile environment harassment under the Fair Housing Act. It will also provide for uniform treatment of Fair Housing Act claims raising allegations of quid pro quo and hostile environment harassment in judicial and administrative forums. This rule defines “quid pro quo” and “hostile environment harassment,” as prohibited under the Fair Housing Act, and provides illustrations of discriminatory housing practices that constitute such harassment. In addition, this rule clarifies the operation of traditional principles of direct and vicarious liability in the Fair Housing Act context.

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From HUD, an overview:

This rule formalizes standards for evaluating claims of quid pro quo and hostile environment harassment in the housing context. The rule does so by defining “quid pro quo harassment” and “hostile environment harassment” as conduct prohibited under the Fair Housing Act, and by specifying the standards to be used to evaluate whether particular conduct creates a quid pro quo or hostile environment in violation of the Act. Such standards will apply both in administrative adjudications and in cases brought in federal and state courts under the Fair Housing Act. This rule also adds to HUD’s existing Fair Housing Act regulations illustrations of discriminatory housing practices that may constitute illegal quid pro quo and hostile environment harassment.

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From HUD, a summary:

The major provisions of this rule:

Formalize definitions of “quid pro quo harassment” and “hostile environment harassment” under the Fair Housing Act.

Formalize standards for evaluating claims of quid pro quo and hostile environment harassment under the Fair Housing Act.

Add illustrations of prohibited quid pro quo and hostile environment harassment to HUD’s existing Fair Housing Act regulations.

Identify traditional principles of direct and vicarious liability applicable to all discriminatory housing practices under the Fair Housing Act, including quid pro quo and hostile environment harassment.

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Select provisions, comments, responses and examples that are more specific:

Subpart H— Quid Pro Quo and Hostile Environment Harassment

  • Quid pro quo and hostile environment harassment.

 

  • (a) General. Quid pro quo and hostile environment harassment because of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin or handicap may violate sections 804, 805, 806 or 818 of the Act, depending on the conduct. The same conduct may violate one or more of these provisions.
  • (1) Quid pro quo harassment. Quid pro quo harassment refers to an unwelcome request or demand to engage in conduct where submission to the request or demand, either explicitly or implicitly, is made a condition related to: The sale, rental or availability of a dwelling; the terms, conditions, or privileges of the sale or rental, or the provision of services or facilities in connection therewith; or the availability, terms, or conditions of a residential real estate-related transaction. An unwelcome request or demand may constitute quid pro quo harassment even if a person acquiesces in the unwelcome request or demand.
  • (2) Hostile environment harassment. Hostile environment harassment refers to unwelcome conduct that is sufficiently severe or pervasive as to interfere with: The availability, sale, rental, or use or enjoyment of a dwelling; the terms, conditions, or privileges of the sale or rental, or the provision or enjoyment of services or facilities in connection therewith; or the availability, terms, or conditions of a residential real estate-related transaction. Hostile environment harassment does not require a change in the economic benefits, terms, or conditions of the dwelling or housing-related services or facilities, or of the residential real-estate transaction.
  • (i) Totality of the circumstances. Whether hostile environment harassment exists depends upon the totality of the circumstances.
  • (A) Factors to be considered to determine whether hostile environment harassment exists include, but are not limited to, the nature of the conduct, the context in which the incident(s) occurred, the severity, scope, frequency, duration, and location of the conduct, and the relationships of the persons involved.
  • (B) Neither psychological nor physical harm must be demonstrated to prove that a hostile environment exists. Evidence of psychological or physical harm may, however, be relevant in determining whether a hostile environment existed and, if so, the amount of damages to which an aggrieved person may be entitled.
  • (C) Whether unwelcome conduct is sufficiently severe or pervasive as to create a hostile environment is evaluated from the perspective of a reasonable person in the aggrieved person’s position.
  • (ii) Title VII affirmative defense. The affirmative defense to an employer’s vicarious liability for hostile environment harassment by a supervisor under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not apply to cases brought pursuant to the Fair Housing Act.
  • (b) Type of conduct. Harassment can be written, verbal, or other conduct, and does not require physical contact.
  • (c) Number of incidents. A single incident of harassment because of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin, or handicap may constitute a discriminatory housing practice, where the incident is sufficiently severe to create a hostile environment, or evidences a quid pro quo.

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PART 100—DISCRIMINATORY CONDUCT UNDER THE FAIR HOUSING ACT

End Part Start Amendment Part

  1. The authority citation for 24 CFR part 100 continues to read as follows:

End Amendment Part Start Authority

Authority: 42 U.S.C. 3535(d), 3600-3620.

End Authority Start Amendment Part

  1. Add § 100.7 to read as follows:

End Amendment Part

Liability for discriminatory housing practices.

(a) Direct liability. (1) A person is directly liable for:

(i) The person’s own conduct that results in a discriminatory housing practice.

(ii) Failing to take prompt action to correct and end a discriminatory housing practice by that person’s employee or agent, where the person knew or should have known of the discriminatory conduct.

(iii) Failing to take prompt action to correct and end a discriminatory housing practice by a third-party, where the person knew or should have known of the discriminatory conduct and had the power to correct it. The power to take prompt action to correct and end a discriminatory housing practice by a third-party depends upon the extent of the person’s control or any other legal responsibility the person may have with respect to the conduct of such third-party.

(2) For purposes of determining liability under paragraphs (a)(1)(ii) and (iii) of this section, prompt action to correct and end the discriminatory housing practice may not include any action that penalizes or harms the aggrieved person, such as eviction of the aggrieved person.

(b) Vicarious liability. A person is vicariously liable for a discriminatory housing practice by the person’s agent or employee, regardless of whether the person knew or should have known of the conduct that resulted in a discriminatory housing practice, consistent with agency law.

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  1. Liability for Discriminatory Housing Practices: § 100.7
  2. Direct Liability for One’s Own Discriminatory Conduct: § 100.7(a)(1)(i)

Issue: A commenter stated that the language in § 100.7(a)(1)(i), which states that a person is directly liable for the person’s own conduct that results in a discriminatory housing practice, may lead to the liability of innocent actors and third-parties who somehow contributed to an illegal discriminatory action. The commenter gave as an example a situation in which a person supplied the pen that a housing provider used to make notes on an application that the housing provider later rejected because of a protected characteristic of the applicant.

HUD Response: The rule creates no new or enhanced forms of liability. As discussed in the preamble of the proposed rule, § 100.7(a)(1)(i) does nothing more than restate the most basic form of direct liability, i.e., that a person is directly liable for his or her own discriminatory housing practices, as defined by the Act. Whether a person’s conduct constitutes a discriminatory housing practice under sections 804-806 or 818 of the Act depends upon the specific facts.

  1. Direct Liability for Negligent Failure To Correct and End Discrimination: § 100.7(a)(1)(ii) and (iii)

Issue: Several commenters expressed concern about the “should have known” standard in proposed § 100.7(a)(1)(ii) and (iii), which states that a person is directly liable for “(ii) [f]ailing to take prompt action to correct and end a discriminatory housing practice by that person’s employee or agent, where the person knew or should have known of the discriminatory conduct,” and “(iii) [f]ailing to fulfill a duty to take prompt action to correct and end a discriminatory housing practice by a third-party, where the person knew or should have known of the discriminatory conduct . . . ” (emphasis added).

Some commenters stated that this standard creates almost certain liability for landlords and that requiring actual knowledge would be more fair to property owners because liability would only attach for failing to act on known discrimination. A commenter stated that the final rule should limit liability where a housing provider has limited knowledge of misconduct. In contrast, other commenters stated that the “knew or should have known” standard is reasonable and consistent with the Fair Housing Act, legal negligence principles, and business practices of housing providers. One commenter complained that the proposed rule appears to require actual knowledge, even though the standard only requires that a defendant “should have known” of the harassment.

Commenters asked HUD to clarify how a housing provider “should have known” about harassment, especially in the context of tenant-on-tenant harassment. A commenter questioned what the housing provider needs to know before liability attaches and whether the housing provider needs to know that the harasser’s actions violate the Fair Housing Act or only that the harasser took some action toward the victim. Several commenters expressed concern that a PHA might be liable when a housing voucher holder is harassed but neither the apartment owner nor voucher holder informs the housing agency about the harassment. One commenter expressed a similar concern that owners living in another city or state may not learn that harassment is taking place on their property unless the tenant tells the owner, and another commenter asked about a PHA’s potential liability when harassment occurs over the internet but is unknown to the housing agency.

HUD Response: The “knew or should have known” standard is well established in civil rights and tort law.[27] A housing provider “should have known” of the harassment of one resident by another when the housing provider had knowledge from which a reasonable person would conclude that the harassment was occurring. Such knowledge can come from, for example, the harassed resident, another resident, Start Printed Page 63067or a friend of the harassed resident.[28] There is no requirement that the resident contact the housing provider about the harassment, only that the housing provider have knowledge from which a reasonable person would conclude that harassment was occurring. If the housing provider has no information from which a reasonable person would conclude that one resident or a third-party was harassing another resident, the housing provider is not liable for failing to take action to correct and end the harassment. If the knowledge component is not met, a housing provider cannot be held liable for a resident’s or third-party’s discriminatory conduct. HUD disagrees that this standard will subject landlords to certain liability. Application of this standard to the liability provisions of the rule helps clarify the Act’s coverage for residents and housing providers. It is intended to help guide housing providers in their assessment of when to intervene to prevent or end discriminatory conduct. HUD encourages housing providers to create safe, welcoming, and responsive housing environments by regularly training staff, developing and publicizing anti-discrimination policies, and acting quickly to resolve complaints once sufficient information exists that would lead a reasonable person to conclude that harassment was occurring.

Issue: A commenter was concerned that § 100.7(a)(1)(ii) is seeking to hold the agent liable for the actions of its principal, contrary to Supreme Court precedent, and asked why this provision is necessary in light of proposed § 100.7(b) (vicarious liability), which states that the housing provider is already liable for the unlawful actions of the agent, whether known or not.

HUD Response: Section 100.7(a)(1)(ii) addresses a principal’s direct liability for the principal’s own negligent conduct in overseeing (or failing to oversee) its agent or employee. Under the negligence theory of direct liability, the principal is liable only if the principal knew or should have known of the agent’s discriminatory conduct and failed to take corrective action to end it. Section 100.7(b), by contrast, holds the principal vicariously liable for the discriminatory conduct of its agent, regardless of whether the principal knew or should have known of the agent’s conduct. As the commenter noted, an agent is not vicariously liable for the principal’s conduct, but is directly liable for his or her own actions. Section 100.7 does not create liability that does not already exist; it does not hold the agent liable for the conduct of the principal, and it is entirely consistent with traditional agency principles and Supreme Court precedent.

Issue: A commenter asked for clarification of the term “third-party” in § 100.7(a)(1)(iii). The commenter was concerned that if left undefined, the term would include everyone. The commenter asked HUD to limit the term to what the commenter perceived to be HUD’s primary concern—“liability resulting from a landlord’s failure to assist a tenant subject to another tenant’s harassment.”

HUD Response: HUD does not agree that its use of the term “third-party” requires further clarification in the text of the rule. In the context of the rule, liability for discriminatory conduct by a “third-party” is appropriately limited to a non-employee or non-agent who engaged in quid pro quo or hostile environment harassment of which the housing provider knew or should have known and had the power to correct.

Issue: A commenter stated that it is unclear from the proposed rule whether the obligation in proposed § 100.7(a)(1)(iii) to take action to end a discriminatory housing practice by a third-party must be derived from a contract, lease, or law, or whether it could be derived from these sources. The commenter also requested that HUD clarify in the rule whether generic lease provisions related to the use and enjoyment of one’s home that are found in almost every lease would be enough to create the obligation and related liability contemplated in § 100.7(a)(1)(iii). Another commenter expressed a concern that housing providers would take steps to minimize their liability for failing to take corrective action by revising their leases and other documents so that they do not create a duty to protect tenants. A commenter expressed concern that the term “duty,” incorporated from other laws and contracts, is difficult to fully assess and therefore bound to create unanticipated consequences.

HUD Response: HUD recognizes that proposed § 100.7(a)(1)(iii) may have caused some confusion, so HUD has reworded the provision in the final rule. Proposed § 100.7(a)(1)(iii) stated that a person is directly liable for “failing to fulfill a duty to take prompt action to correct and end a discriminatory housing practice by a third-party, where the person knew or should have known of the discriminatory conduct. The duty to take prompt action to correct and end a discriminatory housing practice by a third-party derives from an obligation to the aggrieved person created by contract or lease (including bylaws or other rules of a homeowner’s association, condominium or cooperative), or by federal, state or local law.” Revised section 100.7(a)(1)(iii) of this final rule provides that a person is directly liable for “failing to take prompt action to correct and end a discriminatory housing practice by a third-party, where the person knew or should have known of the discriminatory conduct and had the power to correct it. The power to take prompt action to correct a discriminatory housing practice by a third-party depends upon the extent of control or any other legal responsibility the person may have with respect to the conduct of such third-party.” The final rule does not use the term “duty,” and no longer identifies specific categories of potential sources for such a duty. A housing provider’s obligation to take prompt action to correct and end a discriminatory housing practice by a third-party derives from the Fair Housing Act itself, and its liability for not correcting the discriminatory conduct of which it knew or should have known depends upon the extent of the housing provider’s control or any other legal responsibility the provider may have with respect to the conduct of such third-party.[29] For example, when a housing provider enters into a lease agreement with a tenant, the lease typically obligates the housing provider to exercise reasonable care to protect the residents’ safety and curtail unlawful conduct in areas under the housing provider’s control, whether or not the lease contains specific language creating that responsibility. Even if the lease does not expressly create such obligations, the power to act may derive from other legal responsibilities or the operation of law.[30]

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Issue: A commenter expressed concern that proposed § 100.7(a)(1)(iii) creates liability on the part of a community association (homeowner association, condominium or cooperative) for the illegal acts of residents over whom they have no control. The commenter urged HUD to remove or revise the proposed rule’s extension of direct liability to community associations for the discriminatory actions of non-agents. The commenter stated that community associations generally lack legal authority to mandate that residents take actions described in the preamble of the proposed rule because the associations cannot evict homeowners or otherwise impose conditions not specifically authorized by the association’s covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CC&Rs) or state law. The commenter suggested that if the language in § 100.7(a)(1)(iii) remains, it should be modified to clearly state which terms and conditions in association bylaws and regulations constitute a duty on the part of an association or its agents to investigate and punish residents for illegal discriminatory housing practices.

HUD Response: As noted above, HUD has slightly revised § 100.7(a)(1)(iii) to clarify that a housing provider is liable under the Fair Housing Act for third-party conduct if the provider knew or should have known of the discriminatory conduct, has the power to correct it, and failed to do so. HUD also notes that the rule does not add any new forms of liability under the Act or create obligations that do not otherwise exist. The rule does not impose vicarious liability (see § 100.7(b)) on a community association for the actions of persons who are not its agents. Section 100.7(a)(1)(ii) describes a community association’s liability for its own negligent supervision of its agents, and § 100.7(a)(1)(iii) describes a community association’s liability for its own negligence for failing to take prompt action to correct and end a discriminatory housing practice by a third-party. With respect to § 100.7(a)(1)(iii), the rule requires that when a community association has the power to act to correct a discriminatory housing practice by a third party of which it knows or should have known, the community association must do so.

As the commenter recognizes, a community association generally has the power to respond to third-party harassment by imposing conditions authorized by the association’s CC&Rs or by other legal authority.[31] Community associations regularly require residents to comply with CC&Rs and community rules through such mechanisms as notices of violations, threats of fines, and fines. HUD understands that community associations may not always have the ability to deny a unit owner access to his or her dwelling; the rule merely requires the community association to take whatever actions it legally can take to end the harassing conduct.

Issue: A few commenters suggested that HUD should reconsider imposing liability on a landlord for tenant-on-tenant harassment because the law in this area is not well-settled. The commenters expressed concern that proposed § 100.7(a)(1)(iii) exceeds the scope of the Act by expanding liability for housing providers to include liability for third-party harassment of a resident when the housing provider did not act with discriminatory intent. One commenter, relying on Title VII case law and an interpretation of the phrase “because of,” stated that a landlord must have acted with discriminatory intent in order to be liable under the Fair Housing Act. Another commenter stated that although section 804(a) of the Fair Housing Act does not require a showing of intentional discrimination, claims brought under sections 804(b) and 817 of the Act do, citing Francis v. King Park Manor, Inc., 91 F. Supp. 3d 420 (E.D.N.Y. 2015). Another comment stated that to establish a housing provider’s liability for failing to take action to correct third-party harassment, the plaintiff must show not just that the housing provider failed to correct the harassment but also that the housing provider did so because of animus against the victim due to a protected characteristic. A commenter pointed to Lawrence v. Courtyards of Deerwood Ass’n, Inc., 318 F. Supp. 2d 1133 (S.D. Fla. 2004), as an example of a case in which the court dismissed the fair housing claim against the housing provider because the plaintiffs failed to establish that the housing provider’s ineffective response to the harassment was due to racial animus. Commenters also pointed to Ohio Civil Rights Comm’n v. Akron Metro. Hous. Auth., 892 NE.2d 415, 420 (Ohio 2008), in which the court declined to impose liability on landlords for failing to take corrective action in response to discriminatory harassment committed by the landlord’s tenants. A commenter also suggested that not requiring discriminatory animus on the part of the housing provider would amount to strict liability. The commenters proposed that in light of these contrary federal and state court decisions, HUD should require proof of some degree of animus by the housing provider before subjecting the provider to direct liability for the acts of third parties.

HUD Response: HUD does not agree that a housing provider’s failure to act to correct third-party harassment must be motivated by a discriminatory intent or animus before the provider can be held liable for a Fair Housing Act violation. In reaching this conclusion, HUD considered its own experience in administering and enforcing the Fair Housing Act, the broad remedial purposes of the Act,[32] relevant case law including the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Texas Department of Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. holding that the Fair Housing Act is not limited to claims of intentional discrimination, and the views of the EEOC regarding Title VII. The case law cited by the commenters fails to support the proposition that the Fair Housing Act requires discriminatory intent in order to find a housing provider liable for its negligent failure to correct resident-on-resident or other third-party discriminatory conduct. The district court decision in Francis v. Kings Park Manor is the sole exception to that principle, and HUD disagrees with its ruling. HUD notes that this decision is on appeal to the Second Circuit.

Section 100.7(a)(1)(iii) sets out a negligence standard of liability, which does not require proof of discriminatory Start Printed Page 63069intent or animus on the part of the provider, but is far from strict liability. Under this standard, a plaintiff or the charging party must prove three elements to establish a housing provider’s liability for third-party harassment: (1) The third-party created a hostile environment for the plaintiff or complainant; (2) the housing provider knew or should have known about the conduct creating the hostile environment; and (3) the housing provider failed to take prompt action to correct and end the harassment while having the power to do so. HUD does not agree that a fourth element—that the housing provider’s failure to act was more than negligent, and was motivated by discriminatory intent—is necessary or appropriate.

Contrary to one comment, the Supreme Court in Inclusive Communities Project has already ruled that the “because of” clause in the Fair Housing Act does not require proof of discriminatory intent. While not addressing every aspect of the cited decisions, HUD notes the following: In Lawrence v. Courtyards of Deerwood Ass’n, cited by another commenter, the court dismissed the discriminatory harassment claim not for lack of discriminatory intent on the part of the landlord, but because it found, inter alia, that the dispute did not involve discriminatory harassment of one tenant by another but instead reflected mutual antagonism between two tenants. The court in Lawrence distinguished Reeves v. Carrollsburg Condo. Unit Owners Ass’n, 1997 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 21762, *22 (D.D.C 1997), which held the landlord liable under the Fair Housing Act for its failure to adequately address sexual harassment of one tenant by another because “the [Carrollsburg Condo] association’s by-laws specifically authorized the association to curtail conduct that contravened the law” and provided that a violation of local or federal law was a violation of the association rules.[33]

Finally, the state court decision cited by one commenter did not involve claims under the Fair Housing Act and does not provide reason for HUD to alter § 100.7(a)(1)(iii) at the final rule stage. In Ohio Civil Rights Commission v. Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority, the Ohio Supreme Court’s refusal to hold a landlord liable under a state civil rights law for failing to take corrective action in response to one tenant’s racial harassment of another tenant was premised on an incorrect reading of Title VII jurisprudence. The court misconstrued Title VII case law to require an agency relationship between an employer and a perpetrator of harassment in order to hold the employer liable for negligently failing to stop sexual harassment by the perpetrator.[34] In fact, under Title VII, an agency relationship is not required in order to hold employers liable for negligently failing to stop discriminatory harassment of which the employer knew or should have known. Both the EEOC and the federal courts have recognized that an employer may be held liable for negligently failing to stop discriminatory harassment in the workplace by non-employees or non-agents.[35] The principle of liability codified in § 100.7(a)(1)(iii) of this final rule is consistent with these Title VII authorities and, in HUD’s view, appropriately serves the Fair Housing Act’s parallel antidiscrimination objectives in the housing context. In sum, the proposed rule and this final rule reflect HUD’s considered judgment, consistent with prevailing precedent and EEOC regulations, that a housing provider (including a homeowner’s association) or property manager is liable under the Act for negligently failing to take corrective action against a third-party harasser when the provider or manager knew or should have known of the harassment and had the power to end it. In light of the above, HUD declines to make the proposed revisions to the final rule.

Issue: A commenter stated that the imposition of liability on private landlords for tenant-on-tenant harassment is inappropriate and will have several negative consequences. The commenter stated that private owners do not have the expertise or resources to undertake what is essentially a social services function to mediate disputes between neighbors. In addition, the commenter expressed concern that the proposed rule could make it more difficult and risky for property owners to take affirmative steps to operate racially integrated housing. The commenter stated that the rule will be an economic disincentive for individuals, companies, and other investors to engage in the business of renting residential real estate and that the Section 8 voucher program depends on the participation of these private entities in order to achieve other fair housing goals. The commenter expressed concern that the effect of the proposed rule will be to reduce the supply of available affordable units, thus disproportionately harming low-income families. Other commenters raised concerns that landlords, when confronted by tenants who mutually accuse each other of harassment, will be unable to take necessary corrective actions because of the rule’s prohibition against moving or causing injury to a complaining tenant, or will reprimand the wrong tenant because they lack expertise with investigations.

Numerous other commenters supported the rule’s recognition that a housing provider may be directly liable for harassment of a tenant by the housing provider’s employee or a third-party. These commenters stated that any suggestion that this rule will unduly burden housing providers is exaggerated, that the rule is wholly consistent with the ordinary responsibilities of housing providers to ensure habitability, and that housing providers are familiar with the tools they have to enforce their own rules—tools they frequently wield.

HUD Response: The rule does not create new or enhanced liabilities for housing providers, including those who participate in the Section 8 program. HUD believes that this rule will help clarify the obligations that housing providers already have in offering and maintaining housing environments free from discrimination and that comply with the Fair Housing Act. We are long past the time when racial harassment is a tolerable price for integrated housing; a housing provider is responsible for maintaining its properties free from all discrimination prohibited by the Fair Housing Act. Under the Act, discriminatory practices are those that violate sections 804, 805, 806, or 818. Such practices do not encompass all incivilities, and thus it is important to note that not every quarrel among neighbors amounts to a violation of the Fair Housing Act.[36] Ending harassing or Start Printed Page 63070otherwise discriminatory conduct may necessitate evicting the tenant who has engaged in the conduct, not the aggrieved tenant.[37] The Act does not, however, prohibit housing providers from offering to move an aggrieved tenant, as long as that tenant may refuse the offer without consequence or retaliation.

Issue: Some commenters stated that the proposed rule outlining third-party liability conflicts with HUD’s PIH Notice 2015-19, titled Guidance for Public Housing Agencies (PHAs) and Owners of Federally-Assisted Housing on Excluding the Use of Arrest Records in Housing Decisions. One commenter was concerned that PIH Notice 2015-19 makes it harder for PHAs to correct situations that may lead to hostile environment harassment, while the proposed harassment rule would make it easier for PHAs to be held liable for the activities of tenants who take actions against other tenants to create a hostile environment. Another commenter was concerned that PHAs would be forced to choose whether to comply with HUD’s harassment rule or with HUD’s Notice, which prohibits the use of an arrest record as evidence of criminal activity that can support an adverse admission, termination, or eviction decision. These commenters therefore asked HUD to remove third-party liability from the rule.

HUD Response: HUD believes the commenters’ concerns are misplaced because there is no conflict between this rule and PIH Notice 2015-19. The rule does not add any new forms of liability under the Fair Housing Act and the formalization of clear and consistent standards for evaluating harassment claims under the Act does not conflict with the requirements of the PIH Notice. Compliance with PIH Notice 2015-19 does not prevent a PHA from considering reliable evidence of relevant criminal activity when considering how to respond to complaints of harassment. Nor does this rule require a PHA to make use of arrest records to determine whether discriminatory harassment has occurred. Consistent with traditional tort liability principles, as well as current federal Fair Housing Act jurisprudence, this rule codifies HUD’s longstanding view that a property owner, including a PHA, may be held liable for failing to take corrective action within its power in response to tenant-on-tenant harassment of which the owner knew or should have known. Where a PHA receives a complaint or otherwise learns of possible discriminatory harassment of one resident by another, the PHA is advised to assess the situation and, if necessary, take appropriate corrective action to end the harassment.

Issue: Several commenters expressed concern that application of the rule would conflict with HUD’s homeless or permanent supportive housing programs or might have a detrimental effect on persons with mental disabilities. A commenter stated that tenants with severe mental health disabilities may create a hostile environment for neighbors and asked HUD to explain what direct responsibility the housing provider has to correct negative behaviors. A commenter stated that the rule incentivizes evictions over efforts to determine whether a reasonable accommodation might be appropriate for persons with mental disabilities. Another commenter stated that because tenants with mental illness often have difficulty finding housing, the proposed rule might result in an increased rate of homelessness among persons with mental disabilities. A commenter asked HUD to revisit the proposed rule’s third-party liability provision to avoid harming this particularly vulnerable population.

Other commenters stated that the rule would help protect many vulnerable persons from eviction. These commenters supported the statement in the proposed rule’s preamble that eviction is only one of the many corrective actions housing providers may utilize to address harassment.

HUD Response: The rule neither changes a housing provider’s responsibilities toward tenants with mental disabilities nor incentivizes evictions of such persons. It is not uncommon for the behavior of one tenant to frustrate, displease, or annoy another tenant. This is true for behavior by tenants with and without psychiatric disabilities. The rule does not require a housing provider to take action whenever one tenant engages in behavior that another tenant finds objectionable. The Act prohibits discrimination against applicants and tenants with disabilities, including evicting individuals with disabilities because other tenants find them frustrating, displeasing, or annoying. The Act does not, however, require that a dwelling be made available to a person whose tenancy would constitute a direct threat to the health or safety of others or would result in substantial physical damage to the property of others.[38] The housing provider must make an individualized assessment as to whether such a threat exists based on reliable objective evidence that considers: (1) The nature, duration, and severity of the risk of injury; (2) the probability that injury will actually occur; and (3) whether there are any reasonable accommodations that will eliminate the direct threat. In evaluating a recent history of overt acts, a housing provider must take into account whether the individual has received intervening treatment or medication that has eliminated the direct threat. Reasonable accommodations must be made when they may be necessary to afford such persons an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling. HUD refers the reader to the Joint Statement of HUD and DOJ on Reasonable Accommodations under the Fair Housing Act for further information.[39]

  1. 1. Corrective Action: § 100.7(a)(2)

Issue: A commenter asked HUD to remove the prohibition against causing injury to a complaining party.

HUD Response: HUD declines to remove the prohibition on causing additional injury to a person who has already been injured by illegal harassment. Permitting such additional injury would be inconsistent with the Act’s purposes to prevent unlawful discrimination and remedy discrimination that has already occurred.

Issue: One commenter requested further guidance as to what constitutes appropriate corrective action by a housing provider to stop tenant-on-tenant harassment. The commenter specifically inquired whether a single verbal statement by a landlord to a tenant who allegedly engaged in harassing conduct would be sufficient corrective action to relieve a landlord from liability under the rule. Another commenter asked HUD to impose realistic and reasonable limitations on housing providers’ obligation to take corrective action.

HUD Response: There is no one way that a housing provider must respond to complaints of third-party harassment, Start Printed Page 63071although the rule makes clear that a provider that fails to effectively respond may be subject to liability under the Act. Section 100.7(a)(2) provides that corrective actions must be effective in ending the discrimination, but may not injure the aggrieved persons. For example, corrective actions appropriate for a housing provider to utilize to stop tenant-on-tenant harassment or other third-party harassment might include verbal and written warnings; enforcing lease provisions to move, evict, or otherwise sanction tenants who harass or permit guests to harass; issuing no-trespass orders against guests; or reporting conduct to the police. What constitutes appropriate and effective corrective action will depend on the nature, frequency, and severity of the harassment. While in some cases a single verbal reprimand by a housing provider may be sufficient to effectively end discriminatory harassment of one tenant by another, the housing provider should notify the victim that such action was taken, and it is advisable for the housing provider to document this action in its records. Additionally, the housing provider should follow up with the victim of the harassment after the corrective action is taken to ensure that it was effective. If the housing provider knows or should have known that the corrective action was ineffective, the provider has a responsibility to take additional corrective actions within its power. If, however, corrective action is effective in ending the discriminatory conduct, a housing provider is not required to take additional action simply because the victim believes further action should have been taken. HUD does not agree that there is a need to add a specific limitation on a housing provider’s responsibility to take corrective action within its power to act in response to discriminatory harassment of which the provider knew or should have known.

Issue: A commenter stated that because tenants are not agents or employees, landlords cannot simply compel tenants to take or avoid particular action and do not have the ability to shape or alter tenants’ behavior beyond threatening and carrying out evictions. Another commenter asked HUD to consider that there are substantial practical differences between the ability of housing providers to take corrective action to end tenant-on-tenant harassment and their ability to control the actions of their employees because there is no agency relationship in the former. Another commenter stated that most homeowners would be very concerned if association board members, employees, or agents injected themselves into the interpersonal relationships of homeowners and residents to investigate their interactions and relationships for discriminatory elements. This commenter also said that for PHAs, eviction is often unavailable as a remedy for alleged tenant-on-tenant harassment because the U.S. Housing Act of 1937 and federal regulations limit the ability of PHAs to carry out evictions, except for specified causes. In addition, the commenter stated that the result of these restrictions and the proposed rule would be to create significant new liability for PHAs for tenant-on-tenant harassment without creating any new mechanisms for PHAs to mitigate this liability.

In contrast, other commenters stated that the rule does not create any new liability because landlords have an obligation to protect tenants’ rights to quiet enjoyment and generally have the right to take actions against renters and occupants who disturb the quiet enjoyment of others.

HUD Response: Neither the proposed rule nor this final rule create new liability for housing providers, including PHAs or homeowner’s associations, regarding resident-on-resident harassment. Nor does the rule require a housing provider to take action that is beyond the scope of its power to act. HUD recognizes that specific remedies that may be available to employers to stop an employee’s illegal practices will be distinct from those that a housing provider may use to stop residents who are engaging in discriminatory conduct. Creating and posting policy statements against harassment and establishing complaint procedures, offering fair housing training to residents and mediating disputes before they escalate, issuing verbal and written warnings and notices of rule violations, enforcing bylaws prohibiting illegal or disruptive conduct, issuing and enforcing notices to quit, issuing threats of eviction and, if necessary, enforcing evictions and involving the police are powerful tools available to a housing provider to control or remedy a tenant’s illegal conduct. These tools are also available to PHAs, and, contrary to one commenter’s concern, eviction is available to a PHA to correct a tenant’s discriminatory conduct as the PHA may terminate a tenancy for “serious or repeated violation of material terms of the lease,” 24 CFR 966.4(l)(2)(i), which include the obligation that tenants must “act . . . in a manner which will not disturb other residents’ peaceful enjoyment of their accommodations. . . .” 24 CFR 966.4(f)(11).

Issue: A commenter expressed concern that a PHA may be held directly liable for failing to correct actions by third-parties over whom they have little or no control. As an example, the commenter cited harassment of a voucher-holding tenant by neighbors who are not also voucher-holders and not otherwise affiliated with the PHA. Similarly, another commenter stated that the rule could be interpreted to make landlords liable for conduct that occurs off their property or that has nothing to do with a tenant’s home.

HUD Response: This rule describes the standard for assessing liability under the Fair Housing Act. These fair housing standards apply to private and public landlords alike and do not turn on whether a tenant holds a Housing Choice Voucher or receives other government rental assistance. HUD also reiterates that a housing provider is not responsible for correcting every negative action by any third-party. Rather, the third-party action must constitute a discriminatory housing practice as defined by the Act, and the housing provider must have the power to correct it. As provided in the final rule and discussed elsewhere in this preamble, whether a housing provider has the power to take corrective measures in a specific situation—and what corrective measures are appropriate—is dependent on the facts, including the extent of control or any other legal responsibility the person may have with respect to the conduct of such third-party. There may be instances where the ability to correct the unlawful conduct is beyond a housing provider’s control. Thus, when confronted with discriminatory harassment of one of its Housing Choice Voucher-holders or other tenants, the housing agency should explore what corrective actions are within its power and are appropriate to take.

Issue: A commenter suggested that an unintended consequence of the proposed rule could be that property owners would remove security devices, such as video cameras and other surveillance mechanisms, for fear that such measures may create a duty on the part of the property owner to correct neighbor-on-neighbor harassment. In contrast, other commenters stated that housing providers may feel the need to provide for more oversight of residences which may interfere with residents’ right to peaceful enjoyment of their dwelling.

HUD Response: Removing security devices will not relieve a housing provider of its obligation to take the Start Printed Page 63072actions within its power to promptly correct and end a discriminatory housing practice. Elsewhere in the preamble, HUD discusses various options that may be available to housing providers to address neighbor-on-neighbor harassment.

Issue: A commenter stated that owners should be encouraged to use positive incentives, such as promoting better communication with—and healthy relationships among—tenants, and educating tenants about their rights to prevent harassment, instead of taking corrective actions that may harm tenants, such as ending a lease or evicting a tenant—.

HUD Response: HUD agrees that positive incentives are useful tools for preventing harassment. HUD believes, however, that warnings, threats of evictions, evictions, and lease terminations may also be necessary corrective actions to end harassment. The preamble and rule make clear that there is no one way to prevent or correct harassment, only that the methods need to be effective at ending it.

  1. Vicarious Liability: § 100.7(b)

Issue: Several commenters questioned the description of vicarious liability at § 100.7(b) of the proposed rule. One commenter said § 100.7(b) could be interpreted to impose vicarious liability on an organization’s directors, officers, or owners and suggested HUD clarify, consistent with Meyer v. Holley, that it is the organization—not the individual directors, officers, or board members—who are the “principal or employer” subject to vicarious liability under the Fair Housing Act. The commenter asked HUD to issue clarification that the proposed regulations do not contravene or attempt to reverse Meyer v. Holley, 537 U.S. 280 (2003). In contrast, other commenters applauded the description of vicarious liability in the rule, stated that the description follows well-established common law tort and agency principles, and expressed support for the proposed rule’s reliance on Meyer v. Holley.

HUD Response: Subsection 100.7(b) merely describes the well-established concept of vicarious liability, under which principals may be held liable for the discriminatory acts of their agents or employees whether or not they knew of the discriminatory conduct. As articulated in Meyer v. Holley, and as explained in the preambles to the proposed rule and this final rule, traditional agency principles apply to the Fair Housing Act.[40] Under agency principles, a principal is vicariously liable for the actions of his or her agents taken within the scope of their relationship or employment, or for actions taken outside the scope of their relationship or employment when the agent is aided in the commission of such acts by the existence of the agency relationship.[41] Determining whether an agency relationship exists is a factual determination that looks to an agent’s responsibilities, duties, and functions; whether the discriminatory conduct of the agent was within the scope of the agency relationship or aided by the existence of the agency relationship is also a fact-specific inquiry.

Issue: Some commenters questioned the statement in the proposed rule’s preamble that a principal is vicariously liable for the actions of an agent or employee taken outside the scope of the agency relationship or employment when the agent or employee is aided in the commission of such acts by the existence of the agency relationship. A commenter agreed that a principal is vicariously liable for the acts of its agents committed within the scope of the agency, regardless of knowledge or intent to violate the Act by the principal, but believes that, in adopting the “aided in agency” standard, the proposed rule goes beyond traditional tort concepts and does not reflect the limited concepts of vicarious liability endorsed in Meyer v. Holley. The commenter considered it acceptable to hold a real estate company liable for discriminatory acts or statements made by its brokers in the scope of their agency, but disagreed that a housing provider should be liable for misconduct of a janitorial employee outside the scope of that employee’s duty because he wore a badged uniform or possessed keys or passes to tenants’ dwellings. Another commenter asked for clarity on the reasoning behind the assertion in the preamble to the proposed rule that an agent who harasses residents or applicants is necessarily aided by his or her agency relationship with the housing provider.

HUD Response: As discussed throughout this preamble, the proposed and final rule do not create new forms of liability. Instead, HUD has decided to adopt well-established principles of agency law, including that a principal may be vicariously liable for the actions of an agent or employee that are taken outside the scope of the employment or agency relationship if the agent or employee is aided in committing the acts by the existence of the employment or agency relationship. Agency law must be applied to the specific facts at issue to determine whether such a situation exists and gives rise to a principal’s liability. The statement in the proposed rule that an agent who engages in hostile environment harassment of residents or applicants is aided by the agency relationship with the housing provider was not intended to suggest the agent is necessarily so aided with respect to every discriminatory housing practice. It was intended to explain one of the reasons HUD chose not to import into the Fair Housing Act the Title VII affirmative defense to an employer’s vicarious liability for hostile environment harassment. As explained in that context, a housing provider’s agent who engages in harassment holds a position of power and authority over the victimized resident or applicant, regardless of the agent’s specific duties. This is because a resident or applicant has only an arms-length economic relationship with the housing provider, while an agent-perpetrator is clothed with the authority of the housing provider. Given this inherent imbalance of power and control over the terms or conditions of the housing environment, the distinction between harassment by supervisory and non-supervisory employees that supported the creation of the affirmative defense in the employment context do not extend to the housing context.

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