HUD's New Rule Regarding Landlords and Vicarious Liability


Mike Nelson
Mike Nelson

Vicarious liability refers to a situation where someone is held responsible for the actions or omissions of another person. In a workplace context, an employer can be liable for the acts or omissions of its employees, provided it can be shown that they took place in the course of their employment.  This week HUD passed a new rule that could hold landlords and property managers in violation of fair housing law if that landlord, or their representatives, (property managers, agents, vendors, inspectors, etc.) harass any tenants in such a way that the tenants feel unsafe or uncomfortable living at the property.  This new rule goes on to hold the landlord responsible for the actions and behavior of the landlord’s tenants.  If your tenants behave badly, and make other residents feel unsafe or uncomfortable, and the landlord does nothing to remedy the situation, HUD may find that landlord in violation of fair housing law.

More specifically the rule deals with these two circumstances:

Hostile Environment Harassment occurs when a person becomes the victim of “sufficiently severe or pervasive” conduct that takes away from their ability to use and enjoy the housing (e.g., hostile neighbors).

Quid Pro Quo Harassment occurs when a person (e.g., property management staff) makes an unwelcome request or demand, and it makes a resident’s compliance a condition related to their housing.

Landlords have always had some degree of vicarious liability regarding the actions and conduct of their employees, agents, and vendors.  This NEW liability is related to the landlord’s liability regarding the conduct of their tenants.  In the past disputes between tenants and their neighbors that were not clear violations of the lease were often resolved by the police.  Landlords do not have police powers.  Among the many other duties and obligations that fall to the landlord, apparently HUD expects the landlord to now play the role of “peacemaker”.  So landlords need to be prepared to deal with these tenant related disputes or be prepared to respond to a fair housing investigation.  Consider modifying your lease to address this and provide you with a way to terminate the lease if your tenant is involved in a dispute that can not otherwise be reasonably resolved.

Excalibur Homes is an Atlanta property management company.

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