Feds Say Landlords Offered Reduced Rent For Sex, Evicted Tenants When They Refused

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Tenants of homes owned by a pair of St. Louis landlords say the weren’t just subjected to inappropriate sexual comments, but that one landlord also offered to look the other way on the rent if tenants would sleep with him. When the renters refused these advances, they claim the landlords tried to throw them out on the streets.

Some tenants eventually filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the subsequent investigation found sufficient evidence to move forward with a discrimination action against the landlords.

Yesterday the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division filed a federal civil action [PDF] against the landlords, accusing them of violating the Fair Housing Act by sexually harassing, and then retaliating against, female tenants.

The landlords live across the river in Illinois but run at least four rental properties in St. Louis. One former tenant claims that her brief tenure in one of their units was marked by repeated harassment.

According to the complaint, this unacceptable behavior ranged from the landlords pressing her for personal information about her sexual preferences: “whether she had a boyfriend, how she engaged in sex with her girlfriend, whether she and her girlfriend engaged in threesomes, and whether she and her girlfriend would engage in a threesome with [the landlord].”

The tenant says this landlord attempted to touch her breasts, and offered to forgive or reduce the rent if she would engage in sexual acts with him.

The landlords are also accused of repeatedly watching this tenant from outside her home without any legitimate business purpose.

After four months of this alleged harassment, the tenant says the landlords refused to accept her rent check. They claimed she had violated the lease through excessive noise and gambling, and then filed eviction papers alleging non-payment of rent.

She’s not alone, notes the complaint, citing claims from multiple tenants who also say they were offered rent discounts in exchange for sex, along with similar allegations of unwanted touching, inappropriate questions, and one landlord making “gestures indicating his sexual arousal.”

The DOJ says the one landlord “initiated eviction proceedings against female tenants in an attempt to coerce tenants to grant him sexual favors and in retaliation for refusing his sexual advances.”

While the suit is being brought by the government and not the tenants, it could still ultimately provide monetary damages to compensate the alleged victims. The DOJ is also seeking civil penalties and a court order barring future discrimination.

“Unwanted sexual advances or harassment make it impossible for a woman to feel safe in her home,” said Gustavo F. Velasquez, HUD’s Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity.