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Landlord May Be Liable Under Fair Housing Act For Passively Enabling Harassment By Other Tenants.

Posted By Cliff Tuttle | December 30, 2018

No. 1,597

MARSHA WETZEL v. GLEN ST. ANDREW LIVING COMMUNITY, LLC et al., 901 F.3d 856 (7th Cir, 2018).

“Within months of her arrival at Glen St. Andrew Living Community (“St. Andrew”), Marsha Wetzel faced a torrent of physical and verbal abuse from other residents because she is openly lesbian. Time and again, she implored St. Andrew’s staff to help her. The staff’s response was to limit her use of facilities and build a case for her eviction.

Wetzel sued St. Andrew, alleging that it failed to provide her with non‐discriminatory housing and that it retaliated against her because of her complaints, each in violation of the Fair Housing Act (FHA or Act), 42 U.S.C. §§ 3601–3619. St. Andrew insists that the Act affords Wetzel no recourse, because it imposes liability only on those who act with discriminatory animus, an allegation Wetzel had not expressly made of any defendant. The district court agreed and dismissed Wetzel’s suit. We read the FHA more broadly. Not only does it create liability when a landlord intentionally discriminates against a tenant based on a protected characteristic; it also creates liability against a landlord that has actual notice of tenant‐on‐tenant harassment based on a protected status, yet chooses not to take any reasonable steps within its control to stop that harassment. We therefore reverse the district court’s grant of St. Andrew’s motion to dismiss and remand for further proceedings.”

This case in the 7th Circuit is one to watch as it heads back to the District Court to build a record.  The actions of the landlord, which operates a facility that appears to be a personal care residence, are not depicted as neutral in the case summary, based upon the complaint.  The court recognized that the facts that emerge at trial may be different.  The question whether the landlord can ignore complaints of discriminatory conduct by other tenants is not answered because the landlord is portrayed as complicit in the violations.



CLIFF TUTTLE has been a Pennsylvania lawyer for over 45 years and (inter alia) is a real estate litigator and legal writer. The posts in this blog are intended to provide general information about legal topics of interest to lawyers and consumers with a Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania focus. However, this information does not constitute legal advice and there is no lawyer-client relationship created when you read this blog. You are encouraged to leave comments but be aware that posted comments can be read by others. If you wish to contact me in privacy, please use the Contact Form located immediately below this message. I will reply promptly and in strict confidence.

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