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Feds sue Ohio landlord for allegedly sexually harassing tenants

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(The Center Square) – The federal government filed a lawsuit Thursday against an Ohio landlord for sexually harassing tenants and housing applicants in violation of the Fair Housing Act.

The U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit alleges Joseph Earl Lucas, of Amesville, Ohio, harassed female tenants since 2004.

The lawsuit alleges Lucas requested sex acts from female tenants and applicants, subjected female tenants to unwelcome sexual touching and made unwelcome sexual comments and advances to female tenants and their female guests.

It also alleges he repeatedly drove by and entered female tenants’ homes without their permission, demanded female tenants engage in sex acts with him to keep their housing, and offered to reduce rent or excuse late or unpaid rent in exchange for sex acts, according to federal court records.

In one example cited in the lawsuit, Lucas allegedly evicted a woman shortly after she gave birth because she had rejected his sexual advances while pregnant. In the summer of 2019, when the tenant was about eight months pregnant and home alone, Lucas allegedly used his key to enter her home unannounced. He looked into the bathroom where she was showering. About a month later, when the tenant was about nine months pregnant and home alone, Lucas allegedly came to her home unannounced and offered to forgive the rent she owed in exchange for sex.

The tenant rejected the offer and told Lucas to leave. Within a few days, Lucas filed for eviction of the tenant. Later, the tenant, her partner and their newborn child were forced to move as a result, according to the lawsuit.

“This lawsuit sends a message that this deplorable behavior has no place in our communities and that the U.S. Attorney’s Office will vigorously enforce federal civil rights laws to stop this conduct,” said U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio Kenneth Parker . “No one should be forced to endure any form of sexual harassment, let alone in their efforts to maintain housing.”

Lucas has owned and managed more than 70 residential rental properties in and around Athens County, Ohio, home of Ohio University, according to the complaint.

The lawsuit further alleges Lucas initiated evictions or threatened to evict female tenants who denied his sexual advances.

“No one should have to experience sexual harassment in their home or their community,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

The lawsuit came after a joint investigation by the Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of Inspector General. It seeks monetary damages to compensate those harmed by the alleged harassment, a civil penalty and a court order barring future discrimination.

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