CES and LAFLA Join Together to Win Major Tenants’ Rights Legal Victory Against Sexual Harassment & Discrimination of Tenants Perpetrated by Building Managers
Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA) attorneys assisted low-income tenants in successfully fighting back against sexual harassment and discrimination perpetrated by building managers, securing a settlement late in March which delivers monetary compensation for the plaintiffs while ensuring protections for future tenants at the Lafayette Hotel, a rent-controlled residential building offering low rents in the Rampart area of Los Angeles. For nearly two years, senior attorney Fernando Gaytan (photo left), along with co-counsel Christopher Brancart, litigated a hard fought battle to end the harassment of female tenants at the Lafayette.
“Reports of landlords demanding ’sex for rent’ may seem shocking and uncommon to most people,” stated Gaytan, “but for poor and low income tenants, encounters with predatory landlords who take advantage of the economic and social barriers these tenants face is tragically much more common than reported.”
LAFLA’s housing unit launched an extensive investigation after several women from the building stepped forward and described the same pattern of repeated sexual harassment at the hands of management, employees and the owner of the residential hotel. Accounts of harassment included repeated taunting, groping, and quid pro quo in which the women were told their rent would be waived if they acquiesced to demands for sexual favors.
In response to the investigation, several former and current residents stepped forward as witnesses and described similar experiences. For the plaintiffs and several of the witnesses, the Lafayette was their first home after being emancipated from the foster care system or after a period of homelessness.
“Cases involving sexual harassment of tenants highlight how a severe lack of resources can leave tenants vulnerable to multiple forms of abuse by an unscrupulous landlord,” continued Gaytan. “Many low income tenants, especially those who recently left homelessness, are often prime targets of this type of unlawful conduct by landlords, managers and those with power to decide the fate of their homes.”
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of three women and the tenants’ rights group Coalition for Economic Survival, included claims based on violations of federal and state fair housing laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender. The parties reached a settlement just before a jury trial was to commence. As result, the court has entered a consent decree order which calls for monetary compensation, prevents one set of defendants from ever having any involvement with the Lafayette Hotel and requires owner Balubahai Patel to meet certain training and reporting requirements designed to enforce fair housing obligations.
Mr. Patel, who owns scores of residential properties throughout California, will be required to undergo sexual harassment training and obtain certification in fair housing obligations. He will also be required to demand such training of his employees involved in the operation of each residential property and institute a new written anti-harassment policy at his properties. Tenants of Mr. Patel’s properties must be given a copy of HUD-issued know-your-rights fliers concerning harassment and management must exhibit an informational poster on laws against harassment. Mr. Patel, whose business plan includes leasing his residential buildings to individuals who then act as landlord to the residents, must now also include in future leases a requirement that operators and their employees undergo fair housing training.
The court will retain jurisdiction to enforce the terms of the consent decree and defendants will be required to submit certificates of compliance to the court, a key provision, according to Gaytan. “The consent decree entered in this case is a tremendous benefit to the tenants of this building and will have a much broader impact. At each of the over thirty properties owned by the defendant, managers will be asked to provide tenants with informational fliers concerning sexual harassment and fair housing laws and will be required to complete sexual harassment training. This requirement imposed on the owner of multiple properties statewide will cause much needed ’know your rights’ information to reach hundreds of tenants who would otherwise remain isolated.”
Reprinted from “LAFLA Matters,” the newsletter of the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles