Virginia Landlord Settles Sexual Harassment Case

On September 29, 2020, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that Gary T. Price, a manager of rental properties in and around Harrisonburg, VA, together with owners of the properties, Alberta Lowery and GTP Investment Properties, LLC, will pay $335,000 to resolve allegations that Price sexually harassed multiple female tenants and discriminated in housing on the basis of race in violation of the federal Fair Housing Act. The case is U.S. v. Gary Price, GTP Properties, and Alberta Lowery.

The federal government alleged that Price made unwelcome sexual comments and advances toward female tenants, offering housing benefits in exchange for sexual acts, and took or threatened to take adverse action against women who refused his sexual demands. The complaint also alleged that Price violated the Act by using racial slurs with respect to tenants and tenants’ guests, and by prohibiting or attempting to prohibit tenants from entertaining African-American guests in their homes because of the guests’ race. Alberta Lowery and GTP Investment Properties, LLC were named as defendants in the case because they own the properties at which the discriminatory conduct took place and Price was acting on their behalf as their agent when he engaged in the illegal acts. The properties involved were single-family homes and mobile homes.

Under the Consent Decree, the defendants will pay $330,000 to compensate eight victims of discrimination already identified by the DOJ, together with any additional individuals who have been harmed by the defendants’ discriminatory conduct. In addition, the defendants must pay a $5,000 civil penalty. The decree also bars Gary Price from participating in the management of rental properties in the future and requires the defendants to take other steps to prevent future discrimination. Among the actions required of the owners it that all properties they own must be managed by a professional, independent property manager, and the owner and all employees of the owner will attend professional fair housing training.

This case makes it clear that owners of rental properties may not escape liability for discrimination even when the discriminatory acts are perpetrated by an Agent of the owner. This is why only professional property management companies should be used for management, and all employees of both owners and management companies should receive regular, professional fair housing training and proper supervision.