MOUNTAINSIDE, NJ — The Department of Justice has filed a sexual harassment lawsuit in Newark against Mountainside resident Joseph Centanni, who owns hundreds of rental units in buildings in Elizabeth and the surrounding area.

The lawsuit claims Centanni demanded “actual tenants provide him with sexual favors, including oral sex, in order not to lose housing,” and, on other occasions, offered to reduce rents, help tenants obtain rental assistance, or to forgive late or unpaid rent in exchange for sexual favors.

The complaint also alleges he made “unwelcome sexual comments and sexual advances to actual and prospective tenants.” According to the complaint, Centanni also took “adverse housing actions” such as starting or threatening to start eviction actions against “tenants who objected to or refused his sexual advances.” 

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All these actions are in violation of the Fair Housing Act, and his conduct shows “a pattern or practice of resistance to the full enjoyment of the rights granted by the Fair Housing Act … (and) was intentional, willful, and taken in reckless disregard of the rights of others,” according to the complaint.

The complaint gives specific examples of these actions, two in 2019 and one “in or around 2017.” It also alleges “since at least 2005, and as recently as 2019, Centanni has subjected actual and prospective tenants of the subject properties to discrimination on the basis of sex, including unwelcome and severe or pervasive sexual harassment, on multiple occasions.”

The properties he owned and operated during this time included 18 multi-family residential rental properties in and around Elizabeth, which had four to 100 units and six additional properties in the City of Elizabeth.

As of April 2020, there were about 120 tenants with Housing Choice Vouchers and Centanni received about $102,000 a month from the “federally-funded rental assistance program which subsidizes the rent of lower-income families, the elderly, and people with disabilities,” according to the complaint.