In times as unprecedented as COVID-19, many who have been laid off from their jobs cannot afford to uphold their rent. Between putting food on the table, paying bills, and handling rent, with no source of income, financing has become nearly impossible for many individuals.
Some landlords have taken to pressuring tenants into “sex-for-rent” agreements, according to the New York Post. From Hawaii to Chicago, there have been major increases in housing-related sexual misconduct over the month of April. Women of color and trans women are often the most likely to be targeted by landlords for sexual assault.
Financial hardship and unemployment have made some tenants more vulnerable to sexual misconduct and harassment within their housing agreements. According to Buzzfeed News, a woman unable to pay her April rent texted her landlord about looking into more affordable options and he responded with a salacious photograph of himself.
With nearly 17 million Americans filing for unemployment benefits since the government shutdowns, nearly ⅓ of Americans could not manage their April rent within the early days of the month. Some landlords have seized the crisis as an opportunity to sexually harass tenants who’ve found themselves unable to afford rent.
There is a federal act that protects tenants from sexual discrimination by landlords and states also have individual housing laws banning sexual misconduct by landlords to tenants. While this is not a novel situation, it has seen an uptick since the onset of COVID-19.
Many states have enacted rent moratoriums. However, many others have not. Despite these moratoriums, in some states many people still will not be able to maintain their living situations. The Department of Justice is after landlords accused of coercing these tenants into trading sexual acts for rent.
That being said, many times this type of harassment goes unreported. Many women are unsure of where to seek help or fear their eviction or homelessness. Currently, tenants who are experiencing any type of harassment by their landlord should contact their legal aid office.
It is also possible to get help by filing a complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development Online. Though this is not a new issue, it is not one to take lightly. Amidst issues of this global pandemic and hysteria, it is possible to get the help and support needed as a tenant experiencing harassment.