Could You Be Liable for Neighbor-to-Neighbor Harassment?
A federal district court is allowing a former resident to pursue a lawsuit against an HOA and its management company alleging liability for an owner’s racial harassment.
“The meat and potatoes of this case is really the hostile environment claim and whether the association and manager did enough to stop it,” says Kevin Hirzel, managing member of Hirzel Law, PLC, a Michigan-based firm that works with numerous community associations. The court found the answer wasn’t obvious enough to dismiss the case without a trial.
In an earlier ruling, the court referred to the conduct at issue as a “race-based campaign of harassing, taunting, and threatening African American and Latino residents, guests, and contractors.” The former resident was a black tenant in an Indianapolis HOA; the co-defendant owner was white.
In September 2016, after receiving numerous complaints about incidents involving such abuse, the board sent the owner a letter instructing her to stop her behavior and warning that litigation could follow if she didn’t. Her harassment continued.
After neighbors who were concerned about the ongoing harassment held a meeting in July 2018, they contacted the manager (who was the second manager to serve the association during the relevant period). He acknowledged the problem and suggested the group band together to deal with it and reach out to the prosecutor’s office.
The following month, the board’s vice president met with the concerned residents, leading to a September 2018 cease-and-desist letter to the offending owner from the HOA’s attorney. By December 2018, the owner had moved out of the community.
Although the first manager for the association during this period received numerous complaints about the owner, he never sent her a letter about violations, expect for one regarding garbage can placement. Yet, in March 2017, the HOA did file a foreclosure action against her over past due assessments.
In April 2020, the plaintiffs sued the association, the management company, and the owner under the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the corresponding Indiana Fair Housing Act, as well as the Civil Rights Act.
While it’s too early to say how the case will play out, it should throw up a caution flag for HOAs and managers alike when confronted with neighbor-to-neighbor harassment. Read the full story now: