A landlord has agreed never to manage residential dwellings again after entering a consent order with federal authorities, the U.S. Department of Justice announced Tuesday.
According to court documents, Juan Goitia of Davenport, Iowa, racked up a long list of complaints from a tenant for acts committed while managing 908 Bridge Cooperative. Goitia owned the company, and he used the company to control and operate “at least nine (9) multifamily residential rental properties,” the DOJ wrote.
A complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa on June 29, 2020, says Goitia subjected one tenant at 1011 Bridge Avenue to a series of acts of “discrimination on the basis of sex, including severe, pervasive, and unwelcome sexual harassment” between March 2018 and July of that same year. Those acts are said in the complaint to have included the following:
a. Repeatedly offering [the tenant] massages, and stating that his massages focused on the breast, groin, and thigh areas;
b. Repeatedly making unwelcome comments to [the tenant] of a sexual nature, including remarks or questions about her sexual activity, such as commenting that “Irish girls are horny. I bet you get a lot,” and asking her about her sexual experiences with her boyfriend;
c. Propositioning [the tenant], including asking her if she has ever thought of “having something on the side;”
d. Repeatedly knocking on [the tenant]’s door late at night and entering her apartment without permission and without justification, including when she was in the shower;
e. Reaching his hand under [the tenant]’s skirt, without her consent, and touching her upper thigh;
f. Entering [the tenant]’s unit, uninvited, and touching her vaginal area.
The tenant “repeatedly rejected Mr. Goitia’s advances and made clear that his conduct was unwelcome, including by posting signs inside and outside her apartment asking him to leave her alone and asking him not to enter her apartment,” according to the complaint.
The tenant filed a local police report on June 25, 2018, and a federal civil rights fair housing complaint three days later, the complaint says.
By searching Iowa court records, Law&Crime was able to locate a concomitant state-level civil lawsuit between the tenant and Goitia. A petition for relief from sexual abuse was filed by the tenant on Aug. 6, 2018, and a judge immediately issued a temporary protective order.
Several other state-level cases list the name Juan Francisco Goitia or Juan F. Goitia, with the same date of birth and age, in connection with a number of cases involving 908 Bridge Cooperative.
The tenant stopped staying at her apartment by the end of July 2018 and made arrangements to end her lease. When Goitia received a notice of the federal fair housing complaint, he issued a “Notice to Cure or Quit” and never returned the tenant’s security deposit.
The feds accused Goitia of causing “physical harm, fear, anxiety, and emotional distress” to the tenant and of having “inhibited her ability to secure housing for herself.”
An investigation by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development resulted in an “attempted conciliation” which ended “without success,” the complaint says. Therefore, HUD issued a “Charge of Discrimination” which accused Goitia and his company of “engaging in discriminatory housing practices on the basis of sex.” The tenant opted to move the case straight to federal court and out of the administrative review channels pursuant to federal statute, and HUD authorities allowed the case to move in that direction — which it did.
The upshot was a DOJ-backed civil suit on the tenant’s behalf against Goitia and his company which alleged several violations of several sections of 42 U.S.C. § 3604 (discrimination in the sale or rental of housing) and a violation of 42 U.S.C. § 3617 (interference, coercion, or intimidation).
An amended complaint filed Nov. 6, 2020, says the aforementioned tenant was not the only victim. Documents alleged that similar conduct dated back to at least 2010 and included, but was not limited to, the following:
a. Making sexually explicit comments to female tenants;
b. Making unwelcome sexual advances to female tenants;
c. Suggesting that female tenants exchange sexual favors for a reduction in rent;
d. Asking or attempting to touch female tenants or touching female tenants without their consent;
e. Making unannounced visits to female tenants’ homes and entering the homes of female tenants without their consent;
f. Touching or taking female tenants’ undergarments when they are not home; and
g. Retaliating against female tenants for refusing his advances or for complaining about his conduct, by taking adverse housing actions, such as terminating the tenancies of female tenants or strictly enforcing previously unenforced alleged apartment rules.
Federal authorities then provided additional examples of Goitia’s alleged conduct:
For example, in 2012, Defendant Goitia told a female tenant that he would be “really good for [her],” that her “bed looks comfortable” so they “should try it out,” and that he had a dream where he “had his way with [her].” Defendant Goitia also exposed his penis to this female tenant and asked her if she “wanted it.” After this tenant refused his advances, Defendant Goitia terminated her tenancy.
In addition, in 2015, Defendant Goitia told a female tenant that he was a licensed massage therapist in Florida and offered to massage her knee. Without waiting for the tenant’s response, Defendant Goitia started to massage her knee and moved his hands up her thigh. Defendant Goitia then told her that his most requested massage was “in the groin and buttocks areas” because it was “the most relaxing.” Over the next several months, Defendant Goitia repeatedly asked this tenant if he could continue the massage, which made the tenant very uncomfortable and concerned for her safety.
In 2018, Defendant Goitia repeatedly touched a female tenant without her permission, including touching her hips, her hair, and her rear, despite the fact that she told him that doing so was inappropriate. Defendant Goitia also regularly made inappropriate comments to this tenant about her physical appearance, hair, and clothing. Goitia’s repeated touching and comments disturbed the tenant and made her feel uneasy and anxious.
“These women’s experiences were not isolated instances,” the DOJ wrote. “Rather, these were part of Defendant Goitia’s longstanding pattern or practice of illegal sexual harassment of female tenants.”
The docket in the state court proceeding between the original complaining tenant and the landlord says that case was dismissed prior to trial on Feb. 8, 2019, at the apparent request of the tenant. An attorney for the tenant did not return an email or a phone call from Law&Crime to seek clarification on whether or not the dismissal was predicated on the decision to press the case in federal court, but that strategy seems likely given the case’s ultimate trajectory through the courts.
The landlord agreed to settle the federal case on Tuesday, the DOJ said. A judge needs to sign off on the deal, but it currently requires the defendants — Goitia and 908 Bridge Cooperative — to pay $135,000 to compensate the victims and a civil penalty to the government. It also bans Goitia from “continuing to manage rental housing,” “requires Goitia to retain an independent property manager to manage any rental properties he owns now or in the future,” and requires sexual harassment training.
“Sexual harassment by housing providers is an illegal and egregious abuse of power that deprives tenants of their right to be safe and secure in their homes,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department is committed to protecting the rights of vulnerable tenants subjected to sexual harassment and will continue to hold landlords accountable and obtain relief for survivors.”
The case was handled directly by the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C.
Some of the court paperwork is below:
[Image via PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images]
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