The landlord-tenants hornets’ nest has been stirred again, with property owners crying they are unjustly accused of sexually harassing renters.
Landlord groups are specifically incensed about a press release from the Justice Department’s L.A. division Monday, stating that, “The Department of Justice has received reports of housing providers trying to exploit the crisis to sexually harass tenants.”
A department spokesman clarified to The Real Deal there have been no recent reports of property owner sexual harassment in L.A. County.
But the spokesman added, “DOJ has received some reports from other parts of the nation,” and pointed to a sexual harassment lawsuit filed in January against MacArthur Park property manager Filomeno Heranndez, who is not actually a landlord.
In the press release, L.A.-based U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna called on, “Anyone who has witnessed or experienced sexual harassment, by a landlord, property manager, maintenance worker, or anyone with control over housing to report that conduct to the Department of Justice.”
Landlord groups say the feds are unfairly targeting them.
“I’m not sure what fantasies they can think of next,” said Daniel Yukelson, executive director of the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles. “Some unscrupulous residents can and may accuse owners of anything they can think of in order to avoid a discussion about paying their rent.”
The U.S. Attorney’s memo comes on the heels of a Buzzfeed article about alleged sexual harassment of tenants across the country, and a week after Los Angeles City Council president Nury Martinez shepherded through legislation giving tenants the ability to sue landlords who violated tenant protections passed amid the coronavirus.
The legislation is only valid through the city’s coronavirus emergency order, which is of indefinite length. But L.A. tenant activists held a virtual press conference Tuesday pushing city hall to make the measure permanent, so as to fend off tenant harassment.
“Our mental health and peace of mind is threatened by landlords on an ongoing basis,” said Walt Senterfitt of the Los Angeles Tenants Union. “There is no good reason the legislation should not be made permanent.”
The several tenant activists who spoke Tuesday morning did not mention incidents of sexual harassment, but did point to other alleged misdeeds.
For example, a speaker who identified herself as Pamela from Echo Park, said her landlord demanded she board up windows so her cat didn’t escape.
Under the city emergency measure, such landlord abuses can be filed in court and carry a $10,000 or $15,000 fine.
The California Apartment Association’s Fred Sutton pilloried the city legislation as “creating a cottage industry of lawsuits against landlords.”
However, the apartment owner’s group got a key concession in the bill’s final language: Landlords have 15 days to remedy the purported violation before a lawsuit is filed.