Landlords allegedly demanding sex from female tenants who can't afford to pay rent during lockdown
Landlords in the United States are reportedly taking advantage of the coronavirus outbreak to solicit sex in lieu of rent from female tenants as they struggle to make ends meet during the pandemic, according to advocates.
The report comes as unemployment rates soared since the outbreak-related shutdown started. In just a span of four weeks, 22M Americans filed for unemployment benefits — nearly wiping out the 22.4M jobs created in the 11-year recovery period since the Great Recession from 2007 to 2009.
According to NBC News, the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women received more reports in the last two weeks than it had in two years of landlords sexually harassing their tenants. Landlords are even offering to move in with tenants and sending sexually explicit photos to them after the tenants approached them with concerns regarding upcoming rent payments.
The executive director for the office, Khara Jabola-Carolus, said, "Landlord coercion has always been a reality, but we've never seen anything like this," noting that such cases go "vastly underreported". She 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."
Some states have enacted eviction and rent moratoriums. However, experts say these policies may not be enough to keep low and middle-income tenants in their homes. The National Multifamily Housing Council (NMHC) found that 84 percent of apartment households made a full or partial rent payment by April 12, down from 91 percent in March 2020 and 90 percent in April 2019 for the same period.
Renee Williams, a senior staff attorney at the National Housing Law Project told NBC News, "Landlords have all the leverage in the landlord-tenant relationship and in these types of situations, they especially prey on women who are vulnerable, who are housing insecure, have bad credit or who don't have anywhere to go."
She continued, "We've already seen that the pandemic is exacerbating a lot of systemic issues and sexual harassment targeted at tenants by landlords is likely to be one of these issues."
Sheryl Ring, the legal director at Open Communities, legal aid and fair housing agency just north of Chicago told Buzzfeed News that women of color and trans women are often the most likely to be targeted for sexual harassment by landlords.
However, tenants have recourse in such instances. Sandra Park, senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberty Union's Women's Rights Project told NBC News, "Under the federal Fair Housing Act, sexual harassment by landlords is illegal. Many states also have laws that ban sexual harassment and discrimination."
Park said that tenants experiencing harassment should file police reports to "leave a paper trail", but given that doing so does not always guarantee an investigation, she suggested that tenants seek the help of local legal and social services, including human rights commissions.
"Many courts are closed right now, but getting involved with these organizations and having a lawyer from them call landlords could put landlords on notice that their behavior is unacceptable," Park said.
Jabola-Carolus has written an online guide for how women in Hawaii can respond to harassment from landlords. In it, Jabola-Carolus details the organizations that can be contacted and the steps that can be taken.