AMESVILLE, Ohio (WCMH) — An Athens County landlord has been accused by the U.S. Department of Justice of sexually harassing tenants and housing applicants for nearly two decades.

The justice department on Thursday filed a federal complaint against Joseph Earl Lucas, accusing him of violating the Fair Housing Act by, among other things, propositioning female tenants for sex acts for reduced rent and threatening tenants with eviction if they did not comply. His actions, the Justice Department argues, amount to “pervasive sexual harassment” and sex discrimination.

“This lawsuit sends a message that this deplorable behavior has no place in our communities and that the U.S. Attorney’s Office will vigorously enforce federal civil rights laws to stop this conduct,” U.S. Attorney Kenneth L. Parker for the Southern District of Ohio said in a news release. “No one should be forced to endure any form of sexual harassment, let alone in their efforts to maintain housing.”

According to the complaint, since as early as 2004, Lucas would inappropriately touch and make sexual comments about female tenants and their guests, enter female tenants’ homes without their permission, and request sex acts from tenants and prospective tenants. Tenants who refused, a federal investigation found, were denied maintenance services and threatened with eviction.

In one instance, in 2019, a female tenant witnessed Lucas “driving slowly past her home” multiple times while staring at the property. According to the complaint, Lucas later entered her home and “peered into the bathroom” while she was showering.

The next month, Lucas offered to forego collecting rental payment for sex. Within days of her refusal, the complaint alleges Lucas initiated the eviction process.

“Every person deserves to feel safe in housing without facing the threat of being sexually harassed or abused by a landlord,” the Department of Housing and Urban Development Inspector General Rae Oliver Davis said in the release. “Victims should not hesitate to report such harassment and abuse to law enforcement authorities.”

The Justice Department seeks monetary damages be awarded to victims and for the court to issue a civil penalty. The department also asks any person with information about Lucas to contact the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s Civil Rights Tipline at 513-684-2055 or by completing a Civil Rights referral form, available here.

Read the complaint below.