At least six San Diego County women claim they had to endure unwanted touching, crude comments or persistent requests for sex from a Spring Valley landlord. Federal prosecutors believe the landlord preyed on disadvantaged and vulnerable female victims.
“He would try to get me on his couch, and push me on his couch with force,” one alleged victim told NBC 7 Investigates. “I was so scared because I didn’t know where to go, or where to take my kids.”
“Having ownership of a property and being their landlord is not a license to exploit these vulnerable women for sex,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Leslie Gardner. “Your home is supposed to be a place of safety.”
In June, NBC 7 Investigates first reported on the civil complaint that was filed in San Diego Federal Court, accusing Nelson of 10 specific acts of unlawful sexual discrimination. Those acts included offering female tenants “tangible benefits” in exchange for sexual favors, touching tenants without their consent and retaliating against tenants who refused his sexual advances by evicting or threatening to evict them.
Now, after reviewing court records and conducting interviews, NBC 7 is hearing from tenants who describe a pattern of abuse.
“He was groping me and touching me,” said Nicole Mack, in an exclusive interview with NBC 7. Mack said she was staying at a downtown homeless shelter in March when she got a phone call from Nelson. “I just wanted to get into an apartment, I didn’t want to be in the shelter any longer.”
Mack said she put her name on a waiting list for a Section 8 rental voucher and that she believes that’s how Larry Nelson found her. But when she met Nelson at one of his Spring Valley apartments, she said she was shocked to hear what he had to say.
“If I messed around with him, I wouldn’t have to pay rent,” Mack recalls.
Mack is one of several women who sued Nelson in state court, separate from the federal court lawsuit. NBC 7 Investigates reviewed those lawsuits and talked with the plaintiffs.
Mack’s recent lawsuit claims Nelson went back on his offer for the Spring Valley apartment after taking her security deposit. She asked a judge to order Nelson to return her deposit, plus damages, totaling $10,000.
Nelson has not filed a response to Mack’s allegations nor did he or his attorney respond to numerous requests for comment by NBC 7 about the state and federal lawsuits. Nelson has also not filed a response to the federal complaint.
Court filings also include requests by two female tenants for restraining orders against Nelson.
One alleged victim told a judge she was naked in a room in her apartment when she saw Nelson directly in front of a window, watching her. That tenant also claimed Nelson “insisted I go out on a date with him. He entered my apartment with NO notice!” That court file does not include a response from Nelson, and it’s unclear if the judge granted that tenant’s request for a restraining order.
But in another case, a judge did issue a restraining order against Nelson requested by another female tenant. That tenant claimed Nelson “made unwanted sexual advances” several times and even had her car towed as “retaliation” for her refusal to submit to his sexual advances. According to that legal action, Nelson told the neighbors, “No woman will ignore me. This is personal.”
U.S. Attorney Robert Brewer, who heads the Justice Department’s San Diego-area office, said the federal lawsuit against Nelson is a “wake-up call for abusive landlords. Holding a key to someone’s property is not a license to exploit them for sex.”
Nelson is not the only landlord targeted by the Justice Department. The legal action against him is part of a nation-wide initiative to combat sexual harassment in housing. Ten similar lawsuits have been filed against landlords across the nation since October 2017, according to a Justice Department news release.
Federal prosecutors also said a Bakersfield landlord, who was the target of an earlier lawsuit, paid $2 million to settle that legal action. Most of that money went to 25 women identified as his victims. The landlord also agreed to hire an independent manager for his apartments and to limit his contact with female tenants.