The Department of Justice filed a lawsuit Wednesday against an Ohio landlord who is accused of sexually harassing female tenants over the past 11 years.
Joseph Pedaline, 71, is accused of violating the Fair Housing Act after he allegedly sexually harassed multiple women at residential properties that he owned or managed in the Youngstown, Ohio, area from at least 2009 to at least 2020, according to the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio.
The civil complaint alleges that Pedaline repeatedly made sexual comments, touched female tenants without their consent, entered female tenants’ homes without permission, and offered to overlook late rent payments – or waive payments altogether – in exchange for sexual favors.
Pedaline is also accused of evicting tenants, or threatening to do so, if they refused his advances, the lawsuit states.
The complaint includes four different scenarios describing Pedaline’s alleged harassment. In 2020, he is accused of locking the door while showing a woman a vacant apartment, approaching her from behind and touching her inappropriately while saying “this is the place where we have our rendezvous.”
In 2018, a tenant reportedly told him her rent would be late, to which he offered that she could clean an empty apartment to reduce the payment. When she arrived to clean, she stated there were no supplies and he allegedly told her “there are other ways to work off the rent.” The complaint stated she refused to have sex with him, and shortly after she faced an eviction notice for failure to pay.
Sometime around 2012, Pedaline allegedly made similar propositions to a woman cleaning units as a way to pay her rent. She refused his advances, which resulted in her eviction “without court process by changing the locks,” according to the complaint, noting that she lost all of her possessions.
In 2009 and 2010, he allegedly made more lewd comments, and told a female tenant he would return her rent payment if her “dress came up a little higher,” adding that they could “make other arrangements for rent.” According to the complaint, the woman was given a water bill, which was supposed to be covered by the landlord, after she asked him to stop. He then sued her for eviction when she did not pay it, the complaint stated.
The complaint stated that there are more instances accusing Pedaline of sexually harassing tenants.
“No tenant should have to endure sexual propositions, sexual comments or unwelcome physical contact from their landlord,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division stated in a news release. “Sexual harassment in housing is wrong, immoral and illegal. The Justice Department will continue to hold landlords accountable when they violate federal civil rights laws.”
The lawsuit seeks to compensate those impacted by Pedaline’s alleged harassment, a civil penalty to vindicate the public interest and a court order barring future discrimination.
“Too often tenants with limited housing options are preyed upon by landlords, maintenance staff and others who have control over where they live,” U.S. Attorney Rebecca C. Lutzko for the Northern District of Ohio said in a news release. “This lawsuit sends a message that the U.S. Attorney’s Office will not tolerate the exploitation of our vulnerable community members.”
Other tenants who believe they were sexually harassed by Pedaline, or who have information relevant to the suit, can call the Justice Department’s Housing Discrimination Hotline at 1-833-591-0291, press 1 for English, press 2 for sexual harassment and then press 01 for United States v. Joseph Pedaline to leave a message.