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Deal swiftly, surely with sex harassment by board members

September 14, 2003|Stephen Glassman and Donie Vanitzian | Special to The Times

Question: I've been a tenant in the same townhouse complex for more than 19 years. For those 19 years I've dreaded calling the board for maintenance assistance.

I'm a senior citizen and, frankly, I don't want to make any waves because I don't want to be evicted. But there are two men who serve on that board who have made advances toward me every time they come over to supposedly take care of board business.

They never come over together. Both are married, and I know their wives.

One of them stays hours, forever bragging about his accomplishments and gossiping about other homeowners. He won't leave until he invites me out to dinner or over to his house when his wife is away. He keeps saying he won't take no for an answer, and it is a chore getting him to leave.

The other frequently manages to corner me in my laundry room, patio or garage. He once followed me into my own bathroom. He puts his arms around me and says, "Come on, how about a little kiss. Just one little kiss."

I find myself turning in circles trying to get away from these two. I tell them to stop it, but they ignore me. I've been trying to avoid them, but it's impossible because they handle things for the board.

I've told no one about these incidents, but now both of these men are testing the limit by trying harder to push their will on me. Is there a polite way to handle this so I don't get evicted?

Answer: There is no "polite" way to handle what appears to be a case of sexual harassment. Don't chance another encounter; immediately consult an attorney. Report the incidents and both members to the police department, even if it results in criminal charges.

It appears these Lotharios continue because they think they can get away with this conduct. Behavior like this is inexcusable, and being on the board will not protect them or the association, should you decide to sue.

Just as other entities are not protected from the conduct of their employees, so it is with associations, their employees and board members.

The minute you were touched without your permission, the actions constituted a battery, which could lead to monetary damages payable to you by the two board members and possibly the entire association.

Conduct like this need not be tolerated and is not protected because they are board members cloaked with insurance or because you are not an association member.

Your safety is of paramount concern. Do not be intimidated from protecting yourself.

Advise the board in writing that you require adequate notice and the names of people who will visit your home on association business, before any board contact.

If a vendor wants access to your home, ask for identification. If the vendor won't provide identification, or if his or her name was not provided to you in advance, deny access.

If a board member must enter your home, make it unequivocally clear that those two particular board members are permanently barred.

Always ensure there is another person present when vendors, including board members, enter your home. Don't answer the door unless you have a whistle you can blow in case of emergency. Have the police department's telephone number at the ready and don't hesitate to use speed dial.

Eviction is not an option available to the association. Should your landlord threaten to evict you because of association pressure, consult an attorney about it being a possible retaliatory eviction.

Stephen Glassman is a writer and an attorney in private practice specializing in corporate and business law. Donie Vanitzian, J.D., is a writer and arbitrator and manages commercial property. Both live in common interest developments, have served on association boards and are the co-authors of "Villa Appalling! Destroying the Myth of Affordable Community Living" (Villa Appalling Publishing Inc., 2002). Please send questions to P.O. Box 451278, Los Angeles, CA 90045 or e-mail NoExit@mindspring.com.

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