U.S. Landlords Trying To Coerce Cash-Strapped Tenants Into ‘Sex-For-Rent’ Agreements
by A. Jamieson
April 15, 2020
“We’ve received more cases at our office in the last two days than we have in the last two years,” one women’s advocate told BuzzFeed News.
…And now some landlords are allegedly using the crisis as an opportunity to sexually harass vulnerable tenants struggling to afford rent.
“We have seen an uptick in sexual harassment,” said Sheryl Ring, the legal director at Open Communities, a legal aid and fair housing agency just north of Chicago. Ring said her organization has seen a threefold increase in sexual harassment complaints related to housing in the last month.
“Since this started, they [landlords] have been taking advantage of the financial hardships many of their tenants have in order to coerce their tenants into a sex-for-rent agreement — which is absolutely illegal,” said Ring.
The federal Fair Housing Act protects tenants from sexual discrimination by landlords, including prospective landlords. Many states also have specific housing laws banning sexual harassment or discrimination.
Landlords sexually harassing tenants is not a new situation, but large swaths of the community now being unemployed or in financial distress has made even more people vulnerable.
“Of course that’s not the root cause of why it’s happening, but it makes it easier because now [landlords] have access to people at their fingertips,” said Jabola-Carolus.
Often landlords who sexually harass tenants are serial offenders who are “taking advantage of the situation to engage in misconduct they are generally already being investigated or caught for,” said Ring.
She was already working on six sexual harassment housing cases before the COVID-19 epidemic began. But the huge number of people being unable to afford this month’s rent has dramatically increased the risk of it happening.
“We’ve heard some landlords are attempting to use the situation where a tenant falls behind to pressure a tenant into exchanging sex for rent,” said Ring.
And with stay-at-home orders being issued across the country, and a huge public health crisis unfolding, the need for safe housing is more important than ever — something that can be used by landlords to their advantage.
“The power dynamic goes without saying,” said Jabola-Carolus. “All of us feel intimidated by our landlords because shelter is so critical.”