"Uninhabitable" storytelling showcase sheds light on New Orleans housing issues_lowres

 

A New Orleans landlord was accused of sexually harassing female tenants and barring prospective male and black tenants from his properties in a lawsuit filed Tuesday.

Coming under fire in the federal suit is Jerry Kelly Jr., who said he manages roughly 100 properties with at least 200 tenants across the New Orleans area.

The suit filed by the Greater New Orleans Housing Fair Action Center says Kelly, 53, made sexual propositions to female tenants and would enter their apartments at random without their permission.

It says Kelly also refused to show his apartments to male “testers” the housing center commissioned to pose as prospective renters. However, he would readily respond to and show properties to female testers, the suit says.

Kelly denied the accusations in a phone interview Tuesday. “I have men and women tenants,” he said.

But he added that his fourplex at 2324 Calhoun St. has “historically been rented to girls at Loyola, Xavier and Tulane,” because “They always tell me, ‘Jerry, keep it four apartments with four girls.' " Thus, with some exceptions, "I like to keep it with just girls at that building.”

Federal housing law prohibits landlords from barring tenants based on gender, age, race, family status and other considerations. Owner-occupied buildings with no more than four units are exempt from the rules in some circumstances.

The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in New Orleans on behalf of former and current tenants who complained about Kelly last year on social media. The housing center then reviewed their allegations.

Later that year, a female real estate agent Kelly hired to help lease his apartments contacted the housing center, claiming that Kelly rents only to “young, skinny, white girls,” and that she personally witnessed Kelly turn away more qualified men in order to rent to women, according to the suit.

The agent said Kelly then harassed the female tenants, prompting several of them to move out before their leases were up.

One former tenant said Kelly told her outright that he rented only to women. The six-unit apartment she lived in was full of women, she said.

Kelly also repeatedly made unannounced visits to her apartment, and “told her he would reduce her rent if she ‘set him up on a date’ with one of her friends,” according to the suit.

Another former tenant said Kelly grabbed her backside when they met to sign the lease, and that he later told her that he “only returned her call because he believed she was attractive, based on the sound of her voice.” Had Kelly known she was married, the woman said he told her, he wouldn’t have bothered.

Separately, the agency asked male and female testers to attempt to rent Kelly’s apartments at 4233 Fontainebleau Drive and 7927 Birch St. When women called, Kelly answered and immediately set up a time to view the property, the suit says.

But he ignored calls from men, which the suit says was a violation of federal and state laws that ban housing discrimination.

Kelly called the claims “ludicrous” and blamed them on disgruntled tenants or former tenants. 

He said one of his tenants on Birch Street was having a loud party and neighbors alerted him. When she didn’t answer, he came over, he said.

“Young Tulane kids, when you tell them they can’t carry on and tear things up and get destructive, they retaliate,” he said.

Moreover, Kelly said, “Why would a woman rent from me, and sign the lease, if I’m going to grab their butt? Maybe when they get mad, they file these things.” 

The housing center asked that the court bar Kelly from discriminating against tenants again. It also seeks compensation and attorney’s fees for the women it represents.

The suit was assigned to Judge Sarah Vance. 

Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA​.