A creepy New Jersey landlord demanded sexual favors from tenants and applicants in exchange for housing assistance for more than a decade, federal prosecutors allege.
Joseph Centanni, 73, who owns roughly 18 low-income residential rental properties in Elizabeth ranging from four to 100 units, subjected residents and prospective tenants to “severe or pervasive sexual harassment” since at least 2005 and as recently as year, according to a Department of Justice lawsuit filed Wednesday.
Federal authorities allege Centanni, of Mountainside, demanded that “prospective tenants provide him sexual favors,” including oral sex, to obtain housing at his properties and threatened to initiate eviction proceedings against residents who refused his advances.
One woman, according to the 8-page lawsuit, approached Centanni last year to tell him she’d have difficulty paying her rent, prompting him to say he’d help her apply for rental assistance while asking what she’d do in return.
“He then brought her to an empty apartment,” the lawsuit alleges. “There, he asked her for a massage and exposed himself. He then subjected her to unwanted sexual touching by using his hands to move both of hers to touch his testicles and penis as she said words to the effect of ‘no,’ and ‘don’t do that.’”
Centanni proceeded to help the woman apply for rental assistance, federal prosecutors said.
Another female tenant went to Centanni last year and said she had trouble finding another place to stay after previously agreeing to move out of her apartment, the lawsuit states.
He then asked the woman how badly she wanted to stay in the apartment before taking her to an empty storage room, federal prosecutors allege.
“There, Centanni exposed himself and asked for oral sex,” the lawsuit claims. “Because she felt like she had no choice, the tenant submitted to Centanni’s sexual demand. After this incident, Centanni allowed her to stay in her apartment.”
The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages and civil penalties, alleges Centanni violated the Fair Housing Act by subjecting the tenants to sexual harassment.
“No one should ever be forced to provide sexual favors, or otherwise endure sexual harassment, as a condition to keep or obtain housing,” US Attorney Craig Carpenito said.
Prosecutors said Centanni has participated in the federally-funded Housing Choice Voucher Program, which subsidizes rent for low-income families, as well as the elderly and those with diabilities.
Centanni had roughly 120 tentants with Housing Choice Vouchers as of April, and received about $102,000 in monthly payments as part of the program, according to the complaint.
An attorney representing Centanni declined to comment when reached by The Post early Thursday.
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