Fair Housing and Online Harassment

online harassmentThe US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit recently published its opinion in the case of Revock v. Cowpet Bay West Condominium Association, et al., 853 F.3d 96 (2017). In Revock, two homeowners brought an action against their association and several individual owners, claiming the association failed to provide a reasonable accommodation by approving their request for emotional support animals, and that the individual owners interfered with the fair exercise of their fair housing rights, in violation of the Fair Housing Act (FHA). individual owners had posted negative, derogatory, and harassing blog comments about them, and their requests for emotional support animals.

The court held that a reasonable jury could find that this conduct was sufficiently severe to interfere with plaintiffs’ Fair Housing rights. The court’s analysis relied on a new(ish) HUD regulation that prohibits quid pro quo and hostile environment harassment, meaning, it is unlawful to interfere, coerce, intimidate or threaten (physically or verbally) any persons in the exercise or enjoyment of rights granted under the FHA. The Court remanded to the lower court for further proceedings.

Obviously, a board should never post disparaging or harassing information about owners, and most certainly not in the context of a request for a reasonable accommodation. Likewise, Revock suggests individual owners could be in hot water under the FHA for harassing or intimidating conduct that interferes with another resident’s Fair Housing rights. Boards must discourage, and perhaps even take measures to stop this type of behavior.