Handling Harassment When Trash Talk Turns to Transgression

Whether you live in a super-luxe Park Avenue co-op in New York City, a waterfront condo on Lakeshore Drive, a sprawling HOA in Nevada, or a multifamily community in Miami, one thing is certain: you have neighbors. Hopefully they’re the people you grill with on a summer afternoon; the providers of a spare cup of sugar when you run out; the folks who water your plants when you leave town … some even might have attended your child’s wedding or helped you through trying times. But regardless of the size, location, or overall cohesion of your community, at some point you’re likely to have at least one neighbor who disrupts the harmony and infringes on the peaceful enjoyment of your home. 

While most of us in multifamily housing have come to accept this inevitability as a cost of communal living, there are some situations that cross the line from minor nuisance to legitimate harassment. Knowing the difference is important—but it can be tricky to discern, and even more difficult to address. After all, ‘harassment’ is a term that gets thrown around a lot, but is often a subjective disputation. One person’s ‘persistence’ or style of conflict management can be another’s criminal complaint. 

Harassment: Difficult to Identify, Harder to Prove

Adding to the interpersonal complexity, the legal system deals with harassment in different ways, depending on where you reside and the type of harassment being alleged. Laws on harassment vary by state, and levels of criminality can differ within those jurisdictions. 

In some states - like New York, for example - according to several attorneys consulted for this article, there is no civil cause of action for harassment. That means that any action taken against an accused harasser must be pursued as a criminal case. Depending on a number of factors, the harassment can be prosecuted as a misdemeanor, a violation, or a felony. 

Under New York’s Human Rights Law, sexual harassment, discriminatory harassement, or any type of harassing behavior that rises to the level of violence is considered criminal—and as such should be reported immediately to the police. The New York City Commission on Human Rights defines discriminatory harassment as “threats, intimidation, harassment, coercion, or violence that interferes with a person’s civil or constitutional rights and is motivated in part by that person’s actual or perceived race, creed, color, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, or alienage or citizenship status, or other protected status.”


Related Articles

Q&A: Dealing with a Disruptive Tenant

Q&A: Dealing with a Disruptive Tenant

Q&A: Hoarding Problem

Q&A: Hoarding Problem

Removing a Condominium Owner

Navigating a Delicate Legal Process

Removing a Condominium Owner

A Complex Legal Process

Neighbor Noise

When Enough Is Too Much

What's the Toughest Problem Facing Your Board?

Three Perspectives



  • Kaman & Cusimano, LLC on Sunday, January 31, 2021 7:41 PM
    Your final paragraph is perfect and sums up many situations. Also, you mention that some people think they are simply having a conversation while the other person sees it as harassment - different people with different personalities and opinions often react without thinking and the situation escalates. Thank you for the article, good advice about handling these situations before they escalate.