Sexual Harassment in Housing Initiative - Some Recent Cases

Centanni

Joseph Centanni owned and managed hundreds of rental units in and around Elizabeth, New Jersey.  DOJ opened an investigation of Centanni in 2019, after receiving a referral from the Office of the Inspector General at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.  Many, but not all, of Centanni’s tenants participated in the federal Housing Choice Voucher Program, also known as Section 8.  DOJ filed suit on August 5, 2020, alleging that Centanni engaged in a pattern or practice of sexual harassment that spanned a period of at least 15 years.  DOJ’s complaint alleged that Centanni preyed on tenants and housing applicants, demanding that they engage in sex acts to get or keep housing.  Many of these individuals were homeless or previously homeless, experiencing financial difficulties, and/or in desperate need of housing for themselves and their children.  DOJ’s complaint further alleged that he initiated or threatened to initiate eviction actions against tenants who objected to or refused his sexual advances.  The court entered a consent decree on December 17, 2021.  The consent decree reflects that Centanni has sold all of his residential rental properties.  Under the terms of the consent decree, Centanni is permanently enjoined from owning and managing residential rental properties in the future.  Under the consent decree, Centanni must also dismiss housing court judgments, including evictions, obtained in proceedings deemed to be retaliatory and take steps to repair the credit of any affect tenants.  Under the terms of the consent decree, Centanni will pay $4,392,950 in monetary damages to tenants and prospective tenants harmed by his harassment and a $107,050 civil penalty to the United States.

Pfeiffer

Reese Pfeiffer owns and manages rental properties in the Minneapolis area.  Numerous female tenants and prospective tenants alleged that he offered rental benefits in exchange for sex and engaged in severe and unwelcome sexual touching in connection with their housing.  The Justice Department filed suit on September 16, 2020, against Pfeiffer and the co-owners of the subject properties.  The case resolved with the court’s entry of a Consent Decree on October 25, 2021.   The Consent Decree requires Defendants to pay $750,000 in monetary compensation, including $736,000 to 23 aggrieved persons, and a $14,000 civil penalty to the United States.  It also requires the engagement of an independent property manager, and permanently enjoins Pfeiffer from managing rental properties in the future.

Hubbard

Anthony Hubbard owned and managed residential rental properties in and around Toledo, Ohio.  DOJ received a report that Hubbard sexually harassed a female tenant.  DOJ’s investigation revealed that Hubbard had, on repeated occasions since at least 2007, sexually harassed multiple female tenants by, among other things: sending them unwanted sexual text messages, videos, and photos; offering to reduce or excuse their monthly rental payments, security deposits, and utility fees in exchange for sex acts; and entering the homes of female tenants without their consent and without prior notice.  DOJ filed a lawsuit against Hubbard, his mother, his brother, and two management companies – each of whom employed Hubbard as a rental manager.  The United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio entered a consent decree on July 23, 2021.  The decree requires the Defendants to pay $90,000 in monetary damages to three victims of Hubbard’s harassment, and $10,000 in civil penalties.

Hernandez

Filomeno Hernandez managed residential apartment buildings near MacArthur Park in Los Angeles, California. DOJ received reports that for more than a decade, Hernandez sexually harassed female tenants with unwanted sexual touching, including sexual assault, frequent unwelcome sexual advances and comments, offers to reduce rent or excuse late or unpaid rent in exchange for sex and unannounced visits to the homes of female tenants without their consent to make sexual advances. DOJ filed a lawsuit on January 13, 2020 against Hernandez and the owners of the properties, Ramin Akhavan, Bonnie Brae Investments LLC and Westlake Property Services LLC. This case settled on August 10, 2021.  The settlement prohibits Hernandez from participating in the rental or management of residential properties in the future and requires that he vacate the premises and leave his post as on-site property manager. Defendants were also required to pay $100,000 in monetary damages to women who were harmed as a result of the sexual harassment.

Pelfrey

Walter Pelfrey, who died in July 2018, owned and operated over 80 rental properties in and around Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. DOJ received complaints filed with the Department of Housing and Urban Development and other reports that Pelfrey had been sexually harassing his female tenants, including exchanging sexual acts for rent or partial rent, exposing himself to tenants or prospective tenants, entering tenants home and touching them in their sleep, groping tenants or prospective tenants, making unwelcome sexual comments or advances to tenants or prospective tenants, and evicting or threatening to evict tenants who refused to engage in sexual acts. DOJ filed a lawsuit against Pelfrey’s wife, Rosemarie Pelfrey, who was also involved in the rental business, as the Personal Representative of Pelfrey’s estate and Trustee of the trusts that own the properties, and two LLC’s that owned some of the rental properties, Omega Enterprises, LLC and Pelfrey Investment Company, LLC. The parties agreed to a settlement, and the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma entered a consent order on August 3, 2021.  The consent order requires the defendants to pay $1.2 million to tenants and prospective tenants Pelfrey harassed, a $50,000 civil penalty to the United States, and other relief, including filing release and satisfaction of judgments in all wrongful evictions.

Nelson

Larry Nelson owned and managed rental properties in and around San Diego, California.  DOJ received reports that he had been sexually harassing his female tenants.  Former tenants accused him of unwelcome sexual touching, offering to reduce rent in exchange for sex, making unwelcome sexual comments and advances, peeping in bedroom windows, and making intrusive and unannounced visits to female tenants’ homes to further his sexual advances.  Victims also reported being evicted, or threatened with eviction, for refusing his advances.  DOJ filed a lawsuit against Nelson.  He settled the case in May 2021.  The settlement requires him to agree to entry of a $580,000 judgment, which includes paying at least $205,000 to 13 victims of his harassment.

Klosterman

John Klosterman owned and rented properties in Cincinnati, Ohio. DOJ received reports that Klosterman had been sexually harassing his female tenants, including making unwelcome comments about their bodies, touching their bodies in unwanted ways, and asking them for sex. Some victims also reported that Klosterman offered to reduce or waive their rent in exchange for sex and that he refused to make necessary property repairs, or commenced eviction actions, if they refused his sexual advances. DOJ filed a lawsuit against Klosterman and his wife, Susan Klosterman, who jointly owned some of the rental properties Klosterman managed. The Klostermans settled the case in October 2020. The settlement prevents the Klostermans from engaging in any property management responsibilities in the future and to pay $167,125 to the tenants Klosterman harassed.

Price

Gary Price managed rental properties owned by GTP Investment Properties, LLC (GTP) and Alberta Lowery in and near Harrisonburg, Virginia. DOJ received reports and learned through further investigation that Price had engaged in sexual harassment of and race discrimination against multiple tenants over a period of approximately twenty years. The sexual harassment included making unwelcome comments of a sexual nature, offering rent or rent reduction in exchange for sexual favors, demanding that tenants engage in sexual acts to continue renting an apartment, forcing a tenant to have sex with him, and terminating the tenancies of tenants who refused to provide him with sexual favors. DOJ filed a lawsuit against Price, GTP and Lowery on September 29, 2020, and the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia entered a consent order in the matter on October 2, 2020. The consent order requires defendants to retain an independent manager, prohibits Price from entering the subject properties and having contact with current, former or prospective tenants, requires defendants to dismiss actions or vacate judgments in unlawful detainer or related suits in local courts against tenants Price discriminated against and to pay damages to aggrieved persons in the amount of $330,000.

Cao

Thong Cao owned and rented properties in Wichita, Kansas.  DOJ received complaints filed with the Department of Housing and Urban Development and other reports that Cao had been sexually harassing his female tenants, including touching and groping their bodies, breasts and buttocks, making unwelcome comments about their bodies, and asking them for sex.  Some victims also reported that if they were behind on their rent, Cao would offer to reduce or excuse their late rent in exchange for sex and that he evicted tenants who refused his sexual advances.  DOJ filed a lawsuit against Cao and his wife, Mai, who owned some of the rental properties Cao managed.  The Caos settled the case in January 2020.  The settlement requires the Caos to sell their rental properties and to pay $155,000 to the tenants he harassed. 

Waterbury

Douglas Waterbury rented properties in and near Oswego, New York. DOJ received reports that he made unwelcome sexual comments to female applicants and tenants, touched or groped female applicants and tenants, demanded that female applicants and tenants engage in sexual acts with him to rent or continue renting an apartment, offered to reduce rent or security deposits in exchange for sexual acts, refused to make repairs in units with female tenants who rejected his advances, and forced female applicants and tenants to have sexual intercourse with him. DOJ filed a lawsuit against him. He settled the case in August 2019. The settlement requires him to hire someone else to manage the rental properties, and to pay $400,000 to the tenants he harassed. A similar lawsuit requires him to pay $400,000 to eight additional women he harassed and a fair housing organization.

Hatfield

Robert N. Hatfield rented, sold, and financed homes in Wilkes County, North Carolina. DOJ received reports that he made unwelcome sexual comments to female applicants and tenants, groped female applicants and tenants, offered to reduce or eliminate payments in exchange for sexual acts, and took or threatened to take away housing benefits from residents who rejected his advances. DOJ filed a lawsuit on July 13, 2017 against him. He settled the case on April 12, 2019. The settlement prohibits Hatfield from renting, selling, or financing residential properties, and requires him to pay $550,000 to 17 residents and applicants he harassed. 

Webb

Hezekiah Webb owned and rented properties in St. Louis, Missouri, and East St. Louis, Illinois.  DOJ received a complaint filed with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that Webb had made comments about a tenant’s body, asked her sexual questions, attempted to touch her breasts, and offered to reduce her rent in exchange for sex.  Additional victims came forward to HUD and DOJ and reported that Webb made similar unwelcome sexual comments to them, touched their bodies, exposed himself, offered to excuse late rent or reduce rent in exchange for sex, and evicted tenants who rejected his sexual advances.  DOJ filed a lawsuit against Webb and his wife, Jameseva, who co-owned properties with him.  The Webbs settled the case in March 2018.  The settlement prohibits the Webbs from serving as property managers and requires them to pay $600,000 to the tenants who were harassed.

Tjoelker

Frank Tjoelker owns rental properties in Grand Rapids, Michigan. DOJ received reports that he made unwelcome sexual comments to female applicants and tenants. He touched their bodies without their permission. He said he would reduce rent, ignore late or unpaid rent, or stop evictions if the tenants agreed to perform sexual acts. He also threatened to evict women who did not agree to perform sexual acts. DOJ filed a lawsuit against him. He settled the case in October 2017. The settlement agreement requires him to hire someone else to manage the rental properties, and to pay $140,000 to the applicants and tenants he harassed.

Kansas City, Kansas Housing Authority

The Kansas City, Kansas Housing Authority operates the city’s public housing. DOJ received complaints filed with the Department of Housing and Urban Development and other reports that Housing Authority employees were sexually harassing public housing residents and applicants. Victims reported that one employee gave housing to applicants who were appealing housing denials, and dismissed fines and fees residents owed to the housing authority, if he could show them his genitals, show them pornography, or ask them sexual questions. More victims came forward with reports that another Housing Authority employee asked tenants for sex in exchange for getting into public housing or getting a housing transfer. Victims also reported that a third employee evicted residents who rejected his sexual advances. DOJ filed a lawsuit against the employees and the Housing Authority. They settled the case in September 2017. The settlement requires the employees and the Housing Authority to pay $360,000 to the residents and applicants the employees harassed.

Walden

Gary Walden owned and rented properties in Morgantown, West Virginia. DOJ received reports that he grabbed female tenants’ bodies or tried to force them to touch him. He made unwelcome sexual comments and advances. He told them they didn’t have to pay rent if they had sex with him or one of his employees. He evicted tenants for saying no or reporting his behavior. The State of West Virginia prosecuted him for sexual abuse. He pleaded guilty in May 2015. DOJ filed a lawsuit against him. He settled the case in July 2017. The settlement requires him to pay $500,000 to tenants he harassed.

Wygul

Jeffrey Wygul owned and rented homes in Henry, Tennessee. DOJ received a complaint filed with the Department of Housing and Urban Development that Wygul sexually harassed a tenant. He sent text messages to a female tenant repeatedly that demanded she send photos of herself to him. He then demanded that she pose for him in revealing clothes. Finally, he demanded that she pose nude for him. He said he would lower or waive her rent if she posed for him. When the tenant said she wouldn’t pose nude for photos, he evicted her. DOJ filed a lawsuit against him. He settled the case in December 2016. The settlement requires him to pay $15,000 to the tenant he harassed and to leave the rental business.

Southeastern Community and Family Services, Inc.

Southeastern Community and Family Services, Inc. (SCFS) runs the Section 8 housing voucher program in Scotland County, North Carolina. DOJ received reports from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and Legal Aid of North Carolina that the manager and inspector of the Section 8 housing choice voucher program sexually harassed female applicants and participants of the voucher program. They made unwelcome sexual comment and advances, touched women sexually, and demanded sexual acts in exchange for passing a home inspection or moving up on a waitlist. They also refused to give a voucher to an applicant who would not perform sexual acts. DOJ filed a lawsuit. That lawsuit was combined with another lawsuit brought by female applicants and participants. After DOJ filed its lawsuit, SCFS fired the two employees. In 2015, SCFS paid $2.7 million to settle the lawsuits. The settlement requires SCFS to pay $1 million of that $2.7 million to a fund that compensated 71 people who the SCFS employees harassed.

Updated January 11, 2022

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