NJ landlord accused of sexually harassing tenants to pay $4.5M

Joseph Centanni agrees record payout to settle lawsuit alleging he demanded sexual favors from low-income renters.

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mug shot of Joseph Centanni
Landlord Joseph Centanni has agreed to pay $4.5 million to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit involving dozens of tenants
(Ocean County Prosecutors Office)

A New Jersey landlord accused of pestering desperate low-income tenants for sexual favors in exchange for rental assistance has agreed a landmark $4.5 million settlement.

Joseph Centanni, 73, will pay the eye-watering sum to his alleged victims to settle a federal lawsuit accusing him of sexually harassing dozens of vulnerable tenants over a period of 15 years, the Department of Justice announced Tuesday.

The payout is the largest monetary settlement obtained by the DOJ in a housing sexual harassment case.

Centanni, who owned hundreds of rental units in and around the city of Elizabeth, allegedly asked for oral sex or touched tenants inappropriately in exchange for  reduced rent or help getting rental assistance.

Those who refused his demands or rejected his advances were threatened with eviction, according to the lawsuit filed in August 2020.

The landlord allegedly led current and prospective tenants to empty apartments or storage rooms where he would ask for massages, expose himself or demand to be touched sexually.

Centanni targeted women and gay or bisexual men, according to the DOJ.

He also participated in the federal “Section 8” housing voucher program, which subsidizes lower rents, raking in over $100,000 a month in Housing Choice Voucher payments.

Centanni’s $4.5 million payout will be distributed to his alleged victims through a compensation fund, the DOJ said.

He has also been permanently banned from owning or managing rental properties in the future.

“The need for housing is a basic human need,” Acting US Attorney Rachael A. Honig of the District of New Jersey said in the press release announcing the settlement.

“Joseph Centanni exploited that need, and the important federal programs that attempt to meet it, by threatening to deny his victims a roof over their heads if they did not submit to his demands for sexual acts.”

In separate and ongoing criminal prosecutions, Centanni still faces multiple sexual assault and attempted sexual assault charges involving some 20 tenants that were filed in March in Union County.

In spite of the record settlement, Centanni’s attorney, Raymond Londa, continues to assert his client’s innocence.

“Mr. Centanni settled the matter to avoid protracted litigation,” Londa told The New York Post. “Mr. Centanni continues to deny the allegations.”

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