Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

HUD Sues East Side Landlord For Discrimination

Resident allegedly subjected to harassment based on sexual orientation and disability, much of it captured in text messages.

By - Mar 25th, 2022 01:24 pm
1502-1504 E. Royall Pl. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

1502-1504 E. Royall Pl. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The owner of two Lower East Side rental properties and his property manager are being sued for housing discrimination by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

A complaint, released Thursday, accuses property manager Dennis Parker, Leaf Property Investments and firm registered agent Sam Leaf of violating the Fair Housing Act protected rights of a tenant on the basis of sex and disability.

The complainant, a gay male with an intellectual disability, was allegedly repeatedly propositioned for sex by Parker, subjected to repeated homophobic remarks from Parker, subjected to retaliation for calling the Milwaukee Police Department about Parker’s behavior and ultimately subjected to eviction actions with Leaf’s involvement.

HUD’s filing, which relies heavily on text messages between Parker and the complainant, details an escalating series of interactions between the property manager and resident that culminate in a physical attack and the complainant moving out.

The unidentified complainant lived in the three-story, 19-unit rooming house at 1502-1504 E. Royall Pl., from April 2019 until July 2020, and Parker lived across the street in another building owned by Leaf. The resident is alleged to have suffered an “economic loss, lost housing opportunity, embarrassment, humiliation, anxiety, and other emotional distress.” He is said to now have trouble sleeping and suffers from frequent panic attacks.

“No one should feel unwelcome or unsafe in the sanctity of their own homes because of their sexual orientation or disability,” said Demetria L. McCainHUD’s Principal Deputy Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, in a release announcing the charges. “Violating these rights is not only unacceptable, it is illegal.”

“Early on in Complainant’s tenancy, Respondent Parker made some sexually offensive comments to Complainant. At first, Complainant thought Respondent Parker’s verbal comments were just banter and that Respondent Parker was joking. Complainant tried to diffuse the situation with humor by bantering back,” says the 10-page document. “In or around December 2019, Respondent Parker’s verbal comments and text messages became more and more offensive and sexually explicit.”

The text messages included in the complaint include suggestions of oral sex, shoving an object into an orifice and other sex acts. “Some of these statements trigger my [disability],” responded the complaint and asked for respect. Parker responded with a profane message, then proceeded to send more than 40 messages in the next nine days. Those included in the text message include numerous profane and homophobic phrases. They also criticized the complainant’s mental disabilities and receipt of Social Security Disability Insurance. “Get off your lazy ass and work quit scamming off the government,” wrote Parker. The complainant didn’t respond, instead calling the Milwaukee Police Department.

On Dec. 22, an officer visited Parker, to which Parker is reported to have said “go f*ck yourself” and then received a disorderly conduct citation.

On Jan 24. Parker resumed texting the complainant. “Your little stunt calling the police cost me 189 dollars,” wrote Parker. “Fat POS I will always hate you you’re a manipulator a f*cking piece of sh*t user. I wish you would just move and get the f*ck out.” He sent a series of other messages that invoked the complainant’s sexuality and disability.

The complainant said he would move out and asked to be left alone.

Four days later, Parker invited the complainant out for a meal. The complainant responded with disbelief. “What[?] You threatened to kick me out by the first with no eviction notice […] you threatened to call the cops on me, and through [sic] all my stuff on the front lawn,” he said as part of a longer text message.

The complainant made a maintenance complaint to the city on Feb. 17, which the complaint alleges caused Parker to stop using harassing language. On Feb. 26, Parker, the complainant and another tenant went out to dinner together. After the meal, Parker sent a series of text messages with slurs and said he was left with the bill, then said he had a discussion with Sam Leaf and they agreed the complainant needed to move out.

“Sam would like to see you move he is not renewing your lease and you are herby [sic] given your 30 day notice to vacate the property…Sam’s words not mine,” wrote Parker in a March 5 message.

On April 13, the complainant texted Leaf to say that Parker had repeatedly asked him to move with no written notice or warning. Leaf did not address the concern, but answered other questions in the message. At multiple points, the complainant raised concerns to Leaf about Parker’s actions or behavior. But on May 29, he gave a 30-day notice, via text message, to leave by July 1. Leaf agreed.

But on June 21, the complainant alleges he was punched in the groin by Parker and the property manager said “hope you enjoyed the sexual assault” or something similar. He called the police on the June 23 about the incident. Parker was issued a citation for assault and battery.

Another tenant in the complex, according to HUD’s complaint, was witness to Parker propositioning the complainant and to Parker yelling slurs from his balcony at Parker.

The complaint redacts the address of the subject property, but identifies another Leaf-owned property at 1511 E. Royall Pl. as being across the street. A search of city assessment and license records reveals the subject property to be 1502-1504 E. Royall Pl. Leaf acquired both properties in 2013 for $350,000 according to city records. They are now assessed for a combined $888,200.

HUD alleges that Parker and Leaf violated five sections of the Fair Housing Act and should be subject to paying monetary damages for actual damages, a civil penalty for each violation and additional relief as may be appropriate.

“This is an egregious case of harassment because of a tenant’s sexual orientation and disability,” said Damon SmithHUD General Counsel. “The Department has made clear that the Fair Housing Act protects people from such discrimination, and we will take strong enforcement action to stop housing providers from subjecting their tenants to such unlawful conduct.”

The case will be heard by a federal administrative law judge unless any party wishes the case to be heard in federal district court. Escalating the case to federal court would allow punitive damages to also be assessed.

Leaf, according to city license records, also owns The Backyard and Sam’s Tap taverns in Bay View. He did not respond to a request for comment by publication. A phone number found for Parker was said not to be in service upon calling.

A full copy of the complaint can be found on Urban Milwaukee.

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Categories: Real Estate, Weekly

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