Some landlords are taking advantage of the coronavirus crisis by trying to solicit sex in exchange for rent from vulnerable tenants who are out of work during the coronavirus pandemic and worried about how they will pay for their living, NBC News reports.
The spike in reports of solicitation comes as unemployment has climbed to more than 22 million in the span of just four weeks after businesses were forced to shut their doors during the coronavirus pandemic.
The executive director of the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women, Khara Jabola-Carolus, told NBC News that her office has seen a growing number of reports of landlords harassing their tenants.
In some cases, Jabola-Carolus said landlords are suggesting sex in exchange for their rent, sending lewd messages and even offering to move in with their tenants.
“Landlord coercion has always been a reality, but we’ve never seen anything like this,” Jabola-Carolus told NBC.
“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,” she said.
A top attorney for the American Civil Liberty Union’s Women’s Rights Project told NBC that renters facing such conditions should file a police report and seek help through local resources such as human rights commissions, noting that landlord harassment is illegal under federal law.
In the Chicago area, Sheryl Ring, the legal director at Open Communities, a legal aid and fair housing agency, said that her organization has seen a threefold increase in housing-related sexual harassment complaints over the past month.
“We have seen an uptick in sexual harassment,” Ring told the outlet. “Since this started, [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.”
“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,” she added.
Ring urged anyone sexually harassed by a landlord not to give in to their demands, but to contact their local legal aid or tenants’ rights organization.
“It’s important to know what your rights are as quickly as possible,” she told the outlet. “Even now, just because courts are closed to most things, it doesn’t mean you do not have recourse right now and can’t be protected.”