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Justice Department sues L.A. property manager for allegedly sexually harassing female tenants

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(Los Angeles Times)

The Justice Department has filed a lawsuit against a Los Angeles property manager for allegedly sexually harassing and assaulting female tenants for 14 years.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, claims that Filomeno Hernandez repeatedly engaged in unwanted sexual touching, including sexual assault, made unwelcome sexual advances and comments, offered to reduce rent or excused late or unpaid rent in exchange for sex, and non-consensually entered the homes of female tenants at two properties near MacArthur Park.

The suit alleges that Hernandez’s actions are in violation of the federal Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of sex, among other areas.

“No woman should have to endure sexual harassment, especially in her own home,” said Asst. Atty. Gen. Eric Dreiband of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Sexual harassment in housing is unacceptable and illegal, and the Justice Department will continue vigorously to enforce the Fair Housing Act to combat this type of discrimination and to obtain relief for its victims.”

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The buildings are at 729 S. Bonnie Brae Street — an apartment building with 97 units — and 720 S. Westlake Ave., an apartment building with 82 units. In addition to Hernandez, the suit also names property owner Ramin Akhavan and his companies, Bonnie Brae Investment Services LLC and Westlake Property Services LLC, both of which Akhavan is a sole member.

“My client is providing affordable housing. We have a homeless crisis here in Los Angeles and they are risking the existence of affordable housing by doing what they are doing,” Akhavan’s attorney Benjamin Kiss said about the lawsuit. Kiss said that a tenant or tenants are making allegations against the property manager in what he believes to be an attempt to get drugs back into what is now a drug-free building.

In 2018, the Bonnie Brae property insurer filed a civil complaint against Bonnie Brae Investment Services LLC that addresses charges filed against Akhavan in 2015 related to the building upkeep, and details questions regarding accusations of sexual harassment against the property manager.

Hernandez co-manages the property with his wife, Kiss said, and is currently still employed.

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Monday’s suit refers to Hernandez’s behavior as a pattern and alleges his actions caused the women “physical harm, fear, anxiety, and emotional distress, and inhibited their ability to secure housing for themselves and their families.” The suit does not identify the women or state how many were affected from 2006 until present day.

“The sexual harassment of vulnerable women is unacceptable, and we will not tolerate this behavior by any landlord or property manager,” said Nick Hanna, the U.S. attorney for the Central District of California. “Those who abuse their positions of power will be held accountable under the Fair Housing Act.”

In April 2018, the Justice Department announced a nationwide rollout of an initiative to combat sexual harassment in housing. Since the initiative launched, the department has filed 13 lawsuits alleging sexual harassment in housing.

Those who believe that they may have been victims of sexual harassment or other forms of housing discrimination at rental dwellings connected to Hernandez or Akhavan are asked to contact the Housing Discrimination Tip Line at (800) 896-7743.


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