The Department of Justice and federal prosecutors remain vigilant in investigating and prosecuting landlords and property managers who sexually harass tenants during the COVID-19 pandemic, warned U.S. Attorney Erin Nealy Cox.
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many Americans have lost their jobs and many more have seen their wages curtailed. These losses have forced tenants to seek abatements or suspensions of their rent, with reports that nearly one third of Americans were unable to pay their April rent at the beginning of the month.
Many landlords have responded to these circumstances with compassion, working together with their tenants to weather the current crisis. However, other landlords have responded to requests to defer rent payments with demands for sexual favors and other acts of unwelcome sexual conduct.
“Tenants should never have to choose between housing and sexual harassment,” stated U.S. Attorney Erin Nealy Cox. “Sexual harassment by those who prey on vulnerable tenants is both reprehensible and illegal. If you have been a victim of sexual harassment, please report it to 1-844-380-6178 or email@example.com.”
In a memo, Attorney General William Barr stated, “The current times are difficult enough without predatory practices by unscrupulous landlords. We must stop such behavior in its tracks. ”
Attorney General Barr has directed the Civil Rights Division and every U.S. Attorney’s Office to devote all necessary resources to investigate reports of housing-related sexual harassment resulting from the current crisis. In late 2017, the Civil Rights Division launched the Sexual Harassment in Housing Initiative to combat sexual harassment in housing. The Civil Rights Division, together with the U.S. Attorney’s Offices, enforces the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin and disability. Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination the law prohibits.
To address predatory practices by unscrupulous landlords, Attorney General Barr directed Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, Eric Dreiband, and Christina Nolan, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Vermont to oversee and coordinate U.S. Attorneys’ Offices efforts to devote all necessary resources to investigate reports of housing-related sexual harassment resulting from the current crisis.
“The Fair Housing Act authorizes the U.S. Department of Justice take swift action against anyone who sexually harasses tenants,” said Eric Dreiband, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. “Landlords, property owners, and others who prey on vulnerable tenants during the COVID-19 pandemic should be on notice. We will bring the full resources of the United States Department of Justice to the fight against sexual harassment in housing. We will defend the right of tenants and their families to live peacefully and securely in their homes without the added stress, pain, fear, and turmoil of dealing with sexual predators.”
Unfortunately, many instances of sexual harassment in housing continue to go unreported. This is further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many investigations frequently uncover sexual harassment that has been ongoing for years and identify numerous victims who never reported the conduct to federal authorities.
In a public service announcement, U.S. Attorney Erin Nealy Cox urged victims of sexual harassment by a landlord, property manager, loan officer, maintenance worker, security guard, or other person who has control over housing to contact:
Sexual Harassment in Housing Initiative