Things That Matter

Some U.S. Landlords Are Trying To Coerce Their Tenants Into Having Sex If They Can’t Pay For Their Rent During The Coronavirus Pandemic

People across the world are experiencing the impact of the coronavirus crisis on their finances, as businesses and governments struggle to respond to the pandemic.

And whenever people are struggling amid a crisis – whether it be in the aftermath of hurricanes, tornados, or a pandemic – there are sure to be people looking to take advantage of vulnerable people. The latest example is a report showing that a growing number of landlords are looking to exploit desperate tenants for sex in exchange for rent.

Some U.S. landlords are taking advantage of the coronavirus crisis by trying to coerce their cash-strapped tenants into “sex-for-rent” agreements.

According to a report by BuzzFeed News some landlords are using the crisis as an opportunity to sexually harass renters, even asking for sex in exchange for rent. 

Khara Jabola-Carolus, executive director of Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women, told BuzzFeed: “the conditions are ripe for sexual exploitation.” Disturbingly, she said her commission received more reports of cases in two days than it has in the last two years.

“Landlord coercion has always been a reality, but we’ve never seen anything like this,” Jabola-Carolus said. “The coronavirus creates the perfect conditions for landlords who want to do this because not only are people being instructed to stay home, but the virus has added to the economic stress with people losing their jobs, especially in Hawaii, which is driven by tourism.”

In response, Jabola-Carolus published an online guide for women responding to sexual harassment.

In this guide, she wrote that her commission has seen a spike in reports of landlords pressuring tenants who are struggling to pay rent into “arrangements.”

Jabola-Carolus also wrote in her guide that landlords conducting themselves in this manner in America is a “violation of the federal Fair Housing Act and state landlord-tenant code” and provided advice for people who are impacted.

The report also states that landlords who sexually harass tenants are often repeat offenders, so it’s best to keep a record of their behaviour and tell someone you trust about it, because the law is on your side.

In particular, women of color and trans women are often the most likely to be targeted for sexual harassment by landlords.

This new crisis comes amid a growing wave of unemployment related to the Coronavirus pandemic.

Millions of people around the world have either been laid off or furloughed due to the pandemic as governments impose harsh lockdown measures to curb the spread of the disease. But unscrupulous landlords are attempting to exploit vulnerable tenants who find themselves mired in financial trouble and are unable to pay rent.

In facts, in the last week more than 5 million people filed for first-time unemployment benefits – that brings the total of unemployed Americans to nearly 22 million.

Although some states have enacted eviction and rent moratoriums, many experts agree that these measures may not be enough to keep low and middle-class residents in their homes. According to to the National Multifamily Housing Council, only 69% of apartment renters had paid their April rent, down from 81% the previous month.

Advocates like Renee Williams, a senior staff attorney at the National Housing Law Project, suspect that as tenants continue to struggle economically, there will be heightened reports of sexual harassment enacted by landlords in the upcoming months.

Tenants experiencing harassment can file a report with the Justice Department, which oversees an initiative to curtail sexual harassment in housing and has filed several lawsuits against landlords in recent years.

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