SEX FOR RENT: Landlord who offered to reduce rent for sex with female tenants sued by U.S. government

The Justice Department announced today that it has filed a lawsuit alleging that female tenants in residential apartment buildings in Los Angeles, California, were subjected to sexual harassment and retaliation in violation of the federal Fair Housing Act. 

Today’s lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, alleges that property manager Filomeno Hernandez sexually harassed female residents at the rental properties since at least 2006 through the present.

According to the complaint, Hernandez engaged in harassment that included, among other things, frequently and repeatedly engaging in unwanted sexual touching, including sexual assault, making unwelcome sexual advances and comments, offering to reduce rent or excusing late or unpaid rent in exchange for sex, and entering the homes of female tenants without their consent.

The apartment buildings are located at 729 South Bonnie Brae Street and 720 Westlake Avenue, near MacArthur Park. The Department’s complaint names Filomeno Hernandez, Ramin Akhavan, Bonnie Brae Investment Services LLC, and Westlake Property Services LLC as defendants. Defendants manage or own properties where the illegal conduct occurred.

“No woman should have to endure sexual harassment, especially in her own home,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Sexual harassment in housing is unacceptable and illegal, and the Justice Department will continue vigorously to enforce the Fair Housing Act to combat this type of discrimination and to obtain relief for its victims.”

“The sexual harassment of vulnerable women is unacceptable, and we will not tolerate this behavior by any landlord or property manager,” said Nick Hanna, the United States Attorney for the Central District of California. “Those who abuse their positions of power will be held accountable under the Fair Housing Act.”

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: an outreach toolkit to leverage the Department’s nationwide network of U.S. Attorney’s Offices, a public awareness campaign, including the release of a national Public Service Announcement and a new joint Task Force with HUD to combat sexual harassment in housing. Since launching the initiative, the Department of Justice has filed thirteen lawsuits alleging a pattern or practice of sexual harassment in housing.

Today’s lawsuit seeks monetary damages to compensate the victims, civil penalties, and a court order barring future discrimination. The complaint contains allegations of unlawful conduct, which must be proven in federal court.

The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability and familial status.

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