Chicago landlord to pay $36,000 after threatening to "blow up" female tenant

Late last year in Chicago, a federal magistrate judge awarded $36,053 to Florence DuBois in actual and punitive damages to end a housing discrimination lawsuit involving sexual harassment. DuBois claimed that her landlord, Charles House, violated the Fair Housing Act by sexually harassing her. DuBois obtained a default judgment because House did not appear at the trial.

At the damages hearing, DuBois testified that after she moved into House's building, he began asking her out on dates, making comments about her body, calling her on the telephone several times a day, and showing up at her apartment various times throughout the day and night. At one point, DuBois testified that House entered her apartment while she was sleeping, walked into her bedroom, and said that if she did not do what he said, then he would change the locks on her door. According to DuBois, when she asked House to leave her alone, he taped a five-day eviction notice on her door.

House's harassment continued to escalate. DuBois returned home one day to find her television and telephone missing. There were no signs of a break-in and her doors were locked. It was at this point that DuBois could take no more.

DuBois turned to the Lawyers' Committee for Better Housing, Inc. (LCBH) in Chicago for help. They were able to provide her legal counsel (Zeva Schub and George R. Hausen Jr.) and assistance in filing a complaint.

When DuBois filed complaints with police and the Chicago Commission on Human Rights, House removed her front door from its hinges and turned off her heat and hot water. House then called her on the telephone and asked her to back off the complaints. When she refused, House said, "You don't want to f*** with me because I'll blow up the building with you in it."

According to Schub, House did not stop harassing DuBois even after the complaints were filed. Schub said that she attempted to obtain a temporary restraining order against House but was denied.

Schub also said that criminal charges were filed against House regarding the theft of DuBois' television and telephone. Schub said that the criminal charges were eventually dropped.

Following House's actions and threats, DuBois became ill physically and strained emotionally. She received frequent medical treatment for her illnesses. She was forced to move in with her brother, her sister, and her sister's children at a residence farther from her job location and her school's campus.

Magistrate Judge Ronald Guzman awarded DuBois $25,000 for severe emotional distress and mental anguish and $1,053 for out-of-pocket expenses. When he awarded DuBois $10,000 in punitive damages, Judge Guzman said that House's actions and conduct were "egregious, persistent, intentional, malicious, and even predatory."