A landlord in the Sedamsville neighborhood of Cincinnati, OH is being sued by the US Justice Department for subjecting his female tenants to "severe, pervasive and unwelcome sexual harassment.” US Attorney Ben Glassman said that John Klosterman, 68, violated the Fair Housing Act through discriminatory behavior including offering women free rent in exchange for sex, monitoring female tenants with hidden cameras, and discriminating against women who were not single.
CBS affiliate WKRC reports that the investigation began when one alleged victim came forward, and that there are at least a dozen victims dating back to 2013. Glassman told WKRC, "It wouldn't surprise me at all if there are many more.” Klosterman owns 55 rental properties in the neighborhood which, according to the 2010 US census, contains just under 350 housing units.
The Fair Housing Act was enacted in 1968 and prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, disability or national origin in the sale or rental of a dwelling. While the law requires cities to take actionable steps towards ending housing discrimination, enforcement of violations has been notoriously inconsistent.
While the #MeToo movement has called attention to gender-based discrimination and violence, much of the coverage has focused largely on Hollywood. Less attention has been paid to the plight of blue collar workers and to those who face gender discrimination and harassment in aspects of their lives as fundamental as housing.
Lisa Rice, the Executive Vice President of the National Fair Housing Alliance, tells Refinery29 that, “many women fear retribution from landlords and so this problem is chronically under-reported. Many women don’t even know that discrimination based on sexual harassment and gender is a violation of the Fair Housing Act.”
Rice explained that landlords often target women who are vulnerable, such as those who receive public housing vouchers, those trying to escape domestic violence, and undocumented immigrant women. Rice says that while her organization understands the problem to be pervasive, Congress has not provided the funds to establish methodologies and testing necessary to show the extent and nature of gender-based housing discrimination and harassment.
“It just has not been a priority for them,” says Rice.
It appears, however, that the Department of Justice is beginning to make strides to enforce the Fair Housing Act’s protection of women. On Monday, the day before the suit in Cincinnati was filed, the U.S. Attorneys announced a $625,000 settlement in a sexual harassment lawsuit against two St. Louis landlords. The suit alleges that the landlords subjected fifteen female tenants in their rental properties to nearly two decades of harassment, “conditioning housing and housing benefits on female tenants’ agreement to engage in sexual acts, coerced female tenants to engage in unwelcome sexual acts, subjected female tenants to unwanted sexual touching and other unwanted sexual acts, made unwelcome sexual comments and advances to female tenants, and took adverse actions against female residents when they refused sexual advances.”
In Cincinnati, the US attorney has made it clear that he will seek monetary damages for women who were victims of Klosterman’s harassment, which further included sending lewd photos and refusing to make repairs for women who turned down his advances.
In a recent news conference, Glassman stated that, "All of this conduct is not only wrong, it's illegal. No one should have to experience a landlord's pervasive sexual harassment. No one should have to experience any form of prohibited sexual discrimination just for trying to rent their home."