- The Department of Justice is suing a New Jersey landlord who it says demanded sex from tenants in exchange for affordable housing for more than a decade.
- Joseph Centanni had more than 100 tenants on properties that were federally funded, according to the suit.
- On several occasions he coerced vulnerable people who needed to keep or obtain housing to do sexual favors, the DOJ says.
- The DOJ said that this behavior violates the Fair Housing Act.
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The Department of Justice is suing a New Jersey landlord that it says demanded sexual favors from tenants in exchange for housing.
Joseph Centanni, of Mountainside, owns 18 properties that house more than 100 people in Elizabeth, New Jersey, according to the lawsuit.
For more than a decade, the lawsuit alleges, Centanni violated the Fair Housing Act, which is intended to protect tenants from sexual harassment and retaliation by their landlords.
"No one should ever be forced to provide sexual favors, or otherwise endure sexual harassment, as a condition to keep or obtain housing," U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito said in a statement. "Sexual harassment in housing is illegal under the Fair Housing Act, and we will vigorously enforce this federal law to end this depraved type of behavior."
On several occasions between 2005 and 2019, Centanni coerced tenants or people seeking to live on his properties, which are federally-funded affordable housing, to perform oral sex on him in order to keep or obtain somewhere to live, the suit says. He also subjected vulnerable tenants to unwanted sexual touching and exposed his genitals to them, the Justice Department alleges.
When tenants refused his sexual advances, he would retaliate by initiating eviction actions or threatening to do so, according to the court documents.
In one instance, in 2019, a woman living in one of his apartments approached him to say she might have difficulty paying her rent. Centanni offered to connect her to a rental assistance program, and asked what she would do in exchange, according to the court documents.
He brought her to an empty apartment, asked her for a massage, and exposed himself, according to prosecutors. He then used both of his hands to make her touch his genitals, as she said no, prosecutors say. He later helped her to apply for rental assistance.
In another case last year, a woman who planned to move out asked if she could stay because she was having trouble finding a new place, the Justice Department says.
When she asked Centanni if she could stay, he responded to the effect of "how bad do you want your apartment?" according to the lawsuit.
Centanni took the woman to an empty storage room, exposed himself, and asked for oral sex. Feeling like she was out of options, the tenant submitted to Centanni's sexual demand, according to the Justice Department.
Raymond Londa, an attorney for Centanni, declined to comment on the case.
Centanni participated in the federally-funded Housing Choice Voucher Program, a rental assistance program that subsidizes the rent of lower-income tenants, seniors, and people with disabilities.
As of April, Centanni had around 120 tenants who were using the Housing Choice vouchers and was receiving more than $100,000 each month from the program, according to the Justice Department.
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