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Landlords Can be Liable for Tenant-on-Tenant Harassment Under FHA

Fahnbulleh v. GFZ Realty, LLC
No. 8:10-CV-02074-AW (D. Md. 2011)

by Imran O. Shaukat, Summer Associate
Semmes, Bowen & Semmes (

In this recent case, the United States District Court for the District of Maryland concluded that responsibility for tenant-on-tenant harassment can be imputed to a landlord. Specifically, the Court held that the Federal Housing Act (FHA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 3604—3631 (2006) (the “Act”) did not bar a tenant’s claim against her landlord for hostile-housing-environment sexual harassment based on tenant-on-tenant harassment.

By way of background, the Act states that it shall be unlawful to “discriminate against any person in the terms, conditions, or privileges of sale or rental of a dwelling, or in the provision of services or facilities in connection therewith.” 42 U.S.C. § 3604(b) (2006).

Here, Famata Fahnbulleh, a tenant and employee of an apartment building managed by GFZ Realty, LLC (“GFZ”), alleged that she was sexually harassed by her neighbor on multiple occasions. Fahnbulleh notified GFZ about these incidents. At trial, Fahnbulleh argued, inter alia, that because GFZ failed to take corrective measures to prevent further harassment, despite being notified of the tenant-on-tenant harassment, GFZ was responsible for housing related discrimination under the Act. GFZ filed a Motion to Dismiss, arguing that a landlord could not be liable for tenant-on-tenant harassment under the Act.

The Court disagreed with GFZ. Relying on Williams v. Poretsky Mgmt., Inc., 955 F. Supp. 490 (D. Md. 1996), the Court recognized that such “[c]onduct is imputable to a landlord, if the landlord knew or should have known of the harassment, and took no effectual action to correct the situation.” Id. at 496 (citations omitted). Just as employers have the ability and duty to control the work environment to protect employees from harassment, including harassment by non-employees, landlords may also be held liable for the harassment of tenants by other tenants. Because the Act did not prevent recovery for hostile-housing-environment sexual harassment based on tenant-on-tenant harassment, the Court denied GFZ’s Motion to Dismiss.