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Perspectives

Landlords and Boards Are Not Liable for Tenant-on-Tenant Harassment

In April 2021, we reported on a recent decision of the federal Court of Appeals in New York holding that a landlord is not liable under the federal civil rights laws when one tenant harasses another.

More recently, a New York State appellate court in Manhattan has reached the same conclusion under the New York State and Human Rights Laws. In Edstrom v. St. Nicks Alliance Corp., 2021 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 3186, 2021 N.Y. Slip Op. 03112 (1st Dep’t May 13, 2021), the plaintiff tenants alleged that the landlord failed to respond to reports of sexual-orientation and race-based harassment by a fellow tenant. The court held that plaintiffs could not prevail under the federal Fair Housing Act because there was no evidence that the landlord had “substantial control” over the tenant who allegedly perpetrated the harassment.

For the same reasons, the court dismissed plaintiffs’ claim that the same conduct violated the New York State Human Rights Law, and refused to allow plaintiffs to amend their complaint to assert a similar claim under the New York City Human Rights Law. Although the state and city anti-discrimination laws are sometimes interpreted more broadly than the corresponding federal laws, the court declined to apply them to hold a landlord liable for conduct committed by one tenant against another without the landlord’s participation.