Monday, February 26, 2018

DOJ Launches Sexual Harassment in Housing Initiative

The Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice announced a new initiative that brings local law enforcement, legal service providers, and DOJ officials together in order to encourage victims to report instances of sexual harassment, increase awareness, assist in obtaining necessary resources for relief, and ultimately, continue the vigorous enforcement of the Fair Housing Act’s ban on sexual harassment.

This initiative stemmed from four cases in 2017, wherein DOJ recovered over $1 million in damages for claims of sexual harassment and violations of the Fair Housing Act. Two of those cases are U.S. v. Kansas City, Kansas Housing Authority and U.S. v. Tjoelker.

On September 29, 2017, DOJ executed a settlement agreement resolving a case against Kansas City Kansas Housing Authority (KCKHA). The Complaint alleged KCKHA employees engaged in a pattern or practice of sexually harassing female housing applicants and residents. One defendant even admitted in sworn deposition testimony that he exposed himself to multiple females. In the agreement, the fourteen aggrieved females were awarded $360,000 in monetary damages. In addition, KCKHA was ordered to implement a written policy against sexual harassment, including a formal complaint procedure to be approved by DOJ and to pay a $5,000 civil penalty to the United States.

On October 3, 2017, DOJ also executed a settlement agreement against Frank Tjoelker, owner and/or manager of rental dwellings in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The Complaint also alleged that he engaged in a pattern or practice of sexually harassing actual and prospective female tenants. Allegations include unwelcome sexual comments and advances, unwanted groping or touching, offers for housing benefits in exchange for sexual favors, and taking or threats of taking adverse housing actions for those who object to such harassment or refuse to grant sexual favors. Under the settlement agreement, Tjoelker was ordered to pay $140,000 to compensate the ten victims and a $10,000 civil penalty to the United States.

Although DOJ only executed settlement agreements to obtain resolutions on the above-mentioned cases and such agreements are binding only among the parties involved, it is likely that DOJ will apply similar penalties in future settlement agreements or decisions on violations of the Fair Housing Act’s sexual harassment ban. See U.S. v. Bailey, U.S. v. Barnason, and U.S. v. Bathrick.

In this regard, as evidence of good faith compliance with the Fair Housing Act, real estate professionals are encouraged to establish written policies against sexual harassment, to train their employees and agents to identify and refrain from engaging in acts of sexual harassment, and to establish procedures for handling complaints.

Monday, February 19, 2018

House Approves ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017

The US House of Representatives approved the “ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017” or H.R. 620 with a 225-192 vote. This Bill will change the face of commercial real estate disability law immediately when signed by the President. Specifically, the Bill provides for a new notice and cure period as a condition precedent to civil suit. As such, commercial property owners should immediately implement a policy to demonstrate good faith that is triggered by receipt of a notice. Further, defense counsel should leverage this new law as a procedural basis to dismiss claims against commercial real estate clients.

As an aside, the Bill also provides for educational programs designed to promote public accommodations for persons with a disability, but such programs will require regulations prior to implementation so it is unknown how such programs will ultimately look. Regardless, the Bill provides for training of professionals whose job it is to assess accessibility of properties, such as Certified Access Specialists (CASp). The CASp program was created through California Senate Bill 262 and currently, New York does not have a similar program in place. Nonetheless, New York commercial real estate professionals may hire accessibility specialists certified by the International Code Council or similar programs.

As such, commercial real estate professionals should immediately learn more about these specialists to obtain an immediate assessment of their properties as it seems that a positive finding of compliance will be a good mitigator to suit.

To track H.R. 620’s progress through the Senate, use Govtrack.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Top 10 Real Estate Laws of 2017

Now that 2018 is here it is important to be aware of the changes in the law for our industry. This is not a list about the best events from 2017, but instead, a list that highlights the new legal landscape
that real estate attorneys face in 2018. Being familiar with these laws, regulations and opinions may help Attorneys better address their client’s goals and make them money while helping them
avoid malpractice.

Here is a link to the full article by Andrew Lieb, Esq. published in The Suffolk Lawyer.