Federal government settles case in which landlord is accused of harassing female tenants.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) has announced a settlement agreement with defendant Larry Nelson to resolve a Fair Housing Act lawsuit alleging he “sexually harassed female tenants while owning and managing San Diego area rental properties.” The lawsuit was originally filed by the agency in 2019 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, claiming Nelson engaged in sexual harassment of female tenants since 2005. Some of the allegations included “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,” according to the complaint.
“The Fair Housing Act prohibits sexual harassment and retaliation in housing,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband at the time of filing. “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.”
U.S. Attorney Robert Brewer added, “Let this be a wake-up call for abusive landlords. 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.”
Nelson was ordered to pay $205,000 to $230,000 in damages directly to his victims as well as a $25,000 U.S. civil penalty. The former landlord is prohibited from being involved in rental unit property management in any way and was ordered to hire an independent professional for the position.
“People deserve to be safe in their homes,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke for the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division after the settlement was reached. “Sexual harassment in housing deprives them of that security. The Justice Department will not tolerate landlords who abuse their power by sexually harassing their tenants and will continue vigorously to pursue allegations of sexual harassment.”
“Abusive landlords in San Diego and Imperial counties should be on notice that protecting the civil rights of citizens in our district is a top priority, and we do not tolerate discrimination and harassment in housing,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Randy S. Grossman for the Southern District of California. “Holding a key to someone’s property is a position of trust, not a license to engage in illegal sexual harassment and sexual demands.”
The lawsuit came as a result of the DOJ’s October 2017 initiative to combat sexual harassment in housing, which was rolled out nationwide in April 2018. The program includes an outreach toolkit to for U.S. Attorney’s Offices as well as campaign that serves to a public create awareness and contact information for reporting any issues.