Joseph Centanni, owner of hundreds of rental units in the Elizabeth, New Jersey, area, was hit with a lawsuit by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) for allegedly sexually harassing tenants and housing applications, which is in violation of the Fair Housing Act.
According to the complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, for at least 15 years Centanni used his position as landlord to pressure tenants and applicants into giving him sexual favors like oral sex in exchange for housing or reduced rent. He also allegedly inappropriately touched tenants and applicants and made unwelcome sexual advances toward them. He reportedly evicted or threatened to evict tenants who objected to or refused his sexual advances.
Centanni also participates in the federal Housing Choice Voucher Program, also known as Section 8, from which he receives approximately $102,000 each month in payments.
“No one should ever be forced to provide sexual favors, or otherwise endure sexual harassment, as a condition to keep or obtain housing,” said U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito. “Sexual harassment in housing is illegal under the Fair Housing Act, and we will vigorously enforce this federal law to end this type of depraved behavior.”
The lawsuit seeks to have Centanni compensate victims and pay civil penalties. The DOJ is also seeking a court order to bar Centanni from future discrimination.
“The Fair Housing Act protects the right of all persons in our nation to rent a home without suffering sexual exploitation at the hands of abusive landlords. Demanding sexual favors from tenants, especially those who are financially vulnerable, is illegal,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division. “The Fair Housing Act protects tenants from sexual harassment and retaliation by their landlords, and the Justice Department will hold accountable those who engage in such cruel, depraved, and illegal conduct and will work tirelessly to obtain relief for their victims.”
The lawsuit is the result of a joint investigation by the U.S. Department of Housing and the Urban Development’s Housing and Equal Opportunity Office and Office of Inspector General.
Sexual Abuse litigation
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