Supreme Court Reverses Housing Harassment Ruling

Kegler Brown Housing Newsletter

We reported previously about the troubling ruling of the Summit County Court of Appeals in the case of Ohio Civil Rights Commission v. Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority, 170 Ohio App. 3d 283 (Sum. Co. 2000). The Court of Appeals ruled in December 2006 that a PHA can be held liable for failing to take corrective action against a tenant who creates a "hostile housing environment" by harassing another tenant on racial grounds.

The facts of the case were that one tenant family had a number of heated confrontations with an African-American family, including calling them racially derogatory names on a number of occasions and threatening them with physical harm. The targeted family complained to the Housing Authority management, but no corrective action was taken. The appellate court recognized a legal claim against the landlord for allowing a racially hostile housing environment to exist.

On appeal, the Ohio Supreme Court reversed the ruling. On July 8, 2008, the Supreme Court ruled that the Ohio housing discrimination law, Chapter 4112 of the Revised Code, does not create a cause of action against a landlord who fails to take corrective action against a tenant whose racial harassment of another tenant created a hostile environment. Ohio Civil Rights Commission v. Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority, 119 Ohio St. 3d 77 (2008). In reaching this result, the Supreme Court rejected the analogy to employment harassment because, unlike the employer-employee relationship, the relationship between a landlord and a tenant is not one of agency.