Friday, September 2, 2016

Landlord Sought Sex from Tenants for Rent Reduction, Justice Department Says

Posted By on Fri, Sep 2, 2016 at 6:26 AM

click to enlarge PHOTO COURTESY OF FLICKR/PAUL SABLEMAN
A St. Louis landlord who allegedly sexually harassed numerous tenants now faces a lawsuit from the federal government.

In a complaint filed Wednesday in federal court, the Department of Justice alleged that Hezekiah Webb of subjecting his tenants to unwelcome touching, comments about their bodies, questions about their sexual partners, "gestures indicating his sexual arousal" — and offering to reduce rent in exchange for sex.

Webb, who lives in Illinois, owns nine units of rental housing in north city's Penrose neighborhood. He operated them along with Jameseva Webb, who is also being sued but is not personally accused of any harassment.

The government's lawsuit details the story of Shakhari Bell, who moved into one of the Webbs' units in February 2012 under a year's lease — but moved out just four months later after enduring what the Justice Department says was "severe, pervasive and unwelcome sexual harassment." Among other things, Hezekiah Webb "requested and/or attempted" to touch her breasts, asked if she and her girlfriend would have a threesome with him, and watched her and her guests from outside her home.

The Webbs now face allegations that they discriminated because of sex and violated their tenants' civil rights. If found liable by a jury, they could be forced to pay monetary damages to Bell, as well as other unnamed tenants, and a penalty to the federal government.

In a statement, Will Jordan, executive director of the St. Louis Equal Housing and Opportunity Council, or EHOC, said his agency had initiated the complaint against the Webbs.
EHOC is proud to announce that, after an investigation spanning more than three years, the Department of Justice filed this housing discrimination case against Hezekiah Webb based on a complaint initiated by our office with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Sexual harassment in housing threatens a resident's sense of safety and privacy in their own home, and there can be little opportunity to escape such harassment unless the individual or family moves. Low-income women, often racial and ethnic minorities and persons with disabilities, may be particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment in housing. EHOC will continue to seek justice for individuals that are having their Fair Housing rights violated. Every individual and family deserves to enjoy safety and privacy in their home.

Please contact EHOC if you think that you may have been sexually harassed by your landlord.
We welcome tips and feedback. Contact the author at sarah.fenske@riverfronttimes.com.


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