Federal prosecutors Monday sued the manager and owners of two apartment buildings in the Westlake neighborhood near downtown Los Angeles, alleging they have sexually harassed female tenants for more than a decade.
The lawsuit alleges that Filomeno Hernandez, owner Ramin Akhavan, Bonnie Brae Investment Services and Westlake Property Services have repeatedly violated the Fair Housing Act in their operation of the properties at 729 S. Bonnie Brae St. and 720 S. Westlake Ave., both located near MacArthur Park.
Hernandez, identified in the complaint as the property manager of both locations, has sexually harassed female residents at the rental properties from at least 2006 through the present, the lawsuit alleges.
The harassment included 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, according to the complaint.
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"Sexual harassment of vulnerable women is unacceptable, and we will not tolerate this behavior by any landlord or property manager," said Nick Hanna, the U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California. "Those who abuse their positions of power will be held accountable under the Fair Housing Act."
The lawsuit seeks monetary damages to compensate the alleged victims, along with civil penalties and a court order barring future discrimination.
The complaint includes allegations of unlawful conduct, which must be proven in federal court.
In October 2017, the U.S. Department of Justice launched an initiative to combat sexual harassment in housing, which was rolled out nationwide five months later. Since launching the initiative, the federal prosecutors have filed 13 lawsuits alleging a pattern or practice of sexual harassment in housing.
"No woman should have to endure sexual harassment, especially in her own home," said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the DOJ'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."