The U.S. Department of Justice has filed suit against the owner and manager of rental properties in the San Diego area who is alleged to have been sexually harassing female tenants and trading sex for rent discounts, according to a release.

The Justice Department lawsuit alleges that an owner and manager of residential housing in Spring Valley, California, violated the Fair Housing Act by subjecting female tenants of his properties to sexual harassment and retaliation.

Trading Sex for Rent Discounts

The seven-page complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in San Diego, accuses the property owner of entering the homes of his female tenants without reason and in several cases offering to reduce or forgive rent in exchange for sex, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The lawsuit alleges that the owner engaged in sexual harassment of and retaliation against female tenants from at least 2005 to the present – by, among other things, engaging in unwelcome sexual touching, offering to reduce monthly rental payments in exchange for sex, making unwelcome sexual comments and advances, making intrusive and unannounced visits to female tenants’ homes to further his sexual advances, and evicting or threatening to evict female tenants who objected or refused his sexual advances.

The Fair Housing Act prohibits sexual harassment and retaliation in housing,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband in the release – “Any landlord who sexually harasses his tenants or retaliates against them for refusing sexual advances, destroys their housing security and risks families’ ability to keep a roof over their heads.  Anyone who engages in this kind of disgusting and illegal conduct should be on notice:  The Department of Justice will be coming for you.”

Prosecutors said the owner controlled every aspect of the rental process, from accepting applications and determining who could rent the units to setting the rental amount and collecting monthly payments.

“Let this be a wake-up call for abusive landlords,” U.S. Attorney Robert Brewer said in the release. “Holding a key to someone’s property is not a license to exploit them for sex. The Department of Justice is going to make sure a tenant’s home is a place of safety, not suffering,” Brewer said.

In October 2017, the Department of Justice launched an initiative to combat sexual harassment in housing. In April 2018, the department announced the nationwide rollout of the initiative, including three major components: 1) an outreach toolkit to leverage the department’s nationwide network of U.S. attorney’s offices, 2) a public awareness campaign, including the release of a national public service announcement, and  3) a new joint task force with HUD to combat sexual harassment in housing. Since launching the initiative, the Department of Justice has filed 10 lawsuits alleging a pattern or practice of sexual harassment in housing.

The California lawsuit seeks monetary damages to compensate the victims, a civil penalty to vindicate the public interest, and a court order barring future discrimination and harassment. The complaint contains allegations of unlawful conduct; the allegations must be proven in federal court.

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