People feel ‘harassed’ all the time – by crowded trains, loud noises, and even the weather. Co-op and condo residents often feel that their board, or even a neighbor, is ‘harassing’ them. But what qualifies as harassment in the legal sense? What does it mean in the context of co-op and condo living? And what are the potential consequences of boards – or residents – taking grievances too far?
What is Harassment?
Mark Hakim, an attorney specializing in community law with Schwartz Sladkus Reich Greenberg Atlas in New York City, defines harassment as follows: “In New York State, ‘harassment’ in the criminal context is the intent to harass, annoy or alarm another person in or about public places, engage in conduct or repeatedly commit acts which alarm or seriously annoy the victim, and serve no legitimate purpose. However, there is no civil action predicated on harassment.”
Michael C. Kim, Principal of Michael C. Kim & Associates, a law firm based in Chicago, concurs. “Generally speaking,” he says, “harassment would be actionable when a person is subjected to either verbal or physical actions, which essentially are unwelcome, and are motivated by improper purpose. ‘Improper purpose’ may or may not be obvious. Language can indicate improper purpose.”
Chris Florio, a shareholder at law firm Stark & Stark in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, adds that “harassment’s legal definition in a multifamily environment isn’t any different than in the colloquial environment; it’s someone who is consistently abusive or insulting to you. Schools call it bullying. It’s no different in a multifamily building.”
Sheila Van Duyne, Owner of the Van Duyne Law Group in Reno, Nevada, says that harassment in residential communities is not different from harassment elsewhere. It just shows itself differently.