Can I Sue My NYC Landlord For Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment may occur in a variety of contexts, including in the employment, educational, and – as I will discuss here – the housing context.

The New York City Human Rights Law, inter alia, makes it an “unlawful discriminatory practice” for owners and lessors “because of” the “actual or perceived” gender of any person to discriminate against such person “in the terms, conditions or privileges” of the rental or lease of a “housing accommodation.” [N.Y.C. Admin. Code 8-107(5).] The New York State Human Rights Law has a similar provision, codified at New York Executive Law 296(5).

Sexual harassment is a form of “discrimination” that has generally been grouped into two categories: (1) quid pro quo sexual harassment and (2) “hostile environment” sexual harassment.

As to the first form, quid pro quo harassment, the court in Ewers v Columbia Heights Realty, LLC, No. 2006-06557, 702/04, 844 N.Y.S.2d 45, 47, 2007 N.Y. Slip Op. 07393, 2007 WL 2876005 (N.Y.A.D. 2 Dept., Oct. 02, 2007) (involving a claim under Executive Law 296(5)), explained:

In a housing context, quid pro quo sexual harassment “arises when the terms and conditions of a rental, including continued occupancy, rent and the furnishing of services such as repairs, are conditioned upon compliance with the landlord’s sexual demands” (Matter of State Div. of Human Rights v. Stoute, 36 A.D.3d 257, 264, 826 N.Y.S.2d 122). “[T]o make out a quid pro quo or conditioned tenancy claim, the tenant must show that the landlord either (1) conditioned any of the terms, conditions or privileges of tenancy on submission to his sexual requests or (2) deprived a tenant of any of the terms, conditions or privileges of tenancy because [he or] she refused to accede to those requests”[.]

The Ewers court went on to give an overview of “hostile environment” sexual harassment in the housing context:

To prevail on a hostile housing environment theory, it must be shown that (1) the complainant is a member of a protected group, (2) he or she was subjected to unwelcome and extensive sexual harassment, in the form of sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or *610 physical conduct of a sexual nature, which were not solicited or desired by the complainant, and which were viewed as undesirable or offensive, (3) such harassment was based on the complainant’s sex, (4) such harassment affected a term, condition, or privilege of housing, and (5) if vicarious liability is claimed, the complainant must show that the owner knew or should have known about the harassment and failed to remedy the situation promptly” (Matter of State Div. of Human Rights v. Stoute, 36 A.D.3d at 265, 826 N.Y.S.2d 122). In considering a theory of hostile housing environment sexual harassment, “ courts have held that ‘isolated’ and ‘innocuous’ incidents do not support a finding of sexual harassment”[.]

The court found that plaintiff was not entitled to relief on either theory. In particular, the landlord showed that the alleged incidents incidents of harassment were “not sufficiently severe or pervasive to create a hostile housing environment[.]”

In Gromko v Berezin, No. 0105640/2007, 2008 WL 827903, at *9, 2008 N.Y. Slip Op. 30818(U) (N.Y. Sup Ct, New York County Mar. 17, 2008), the plaintiff sued her landlord under, inte ralia, the NY Executive Law and Administrative Code, asserting that he subjected to sexual harassment and, after she rebuffed his advances, retaliated against her by failing to make repairs. The court held that a stipulation between the parties resolving a rent non-payment proceeding was not broad enough to cover her sexual harassment claims.