UPDATED, 12:45 p.m., Jan. 14: The property manager of two apartment buildings in Westlake sexually harassed and abused female tenants for nearly 15 years, according to a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice. And the landlord says he hasn’t been fired.
Federal prosecutors yesterday alleged that Filomeno Hernandez victimized “vulnerable” women residing in two apartments on the 700 blocks of S. Bonnie Brae St. and Westlake Avenue near MacArthur Park, according to the complaint, which was filed in federal court in Los Angeles.
The Department of Justice says that starting in 2006, Hernandez allegedly sexually assaulted victims, made unwelcome sexual advances and comments, and offered to reduce rent or excuse late or unpaid rent in exchange for sex, among other claims.
But Ramin Akhavan, who owns the 97-unit building at 729 S. Bonnie Brae Street and the 82-unit property 720 S. Westlake Avenue, hasn’t terminated Hernandez, his lawyer Benjamin Kiss told The Real Deal.
“My client does not believe there was any form of sexual harassment whatsoever,” Kiss said. “The evidence is to the contrary.”
Kiss said he believed the allegations were a “roundabout way to get (Hernandez) removed” because he had cracked down on the use of drugs in the building.
“My client is providing affordable housing. We have a homeless crisis here in Los Angeles and they are risking the existence of affordable housing by doing what they are doing,” Kiss told the LA Times when asked about the lawsuit.
The suit says those alleged actions constituted a violation of the federal Fair Housing Act, which prohibits housing discrimination based on the basis of sex.
Akhavan, who controls Bonnie Brae Investment Services LLC and Westlake Property Services, was also listed as a defendant in the lawsuit. Property records show an Akhavan-controlled entity paid $445,000 to acquire the 82-unit property at 720 S. Westlake, and $750,000 for 790 S. Bray.
In 2017, the DOJ launched an initiative to combat sexual harassment in housing. It’s filed 13 lawsuits alleging a pattern or practice of sexual harassment on the part of property managers and/or landlords.
“No woman should have to endure sexual harassment, especially in her own home,” assistant attorney general Eric Dreiband of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said in a statement. “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.”
This story has been updated to include comments from Benjamin Kiss.