Landlords Sexually Harass Tenants Who Cannot Afford to Pay Rent During the COVID Pandemic

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Coronavirus has cost people jobs. It has cost them security. It has cost them their independence. And in some cases, it has cost them their lives.

However, federal and state laws were supposed to prevent it from costing them their homes.

The CARES Act instituted a nationwide eviction plan. When it expired, a National Eviction Moratorium continued this plan. Under the moratorium, landlords cannot evict tenants who cannot pay their rent due to Coronavirus. The moratorium remains in place through December 31, 2020.

Unfortunately, many low-income tenants are unaware of the COVID relief extension for rent. They worry their landlords will evict them when they cannot pay their rent due to a layoff from one or more of their jobs.

Landlords can easily sway these renters to exchange sex for rent. Renters fear that without giving in to their landlord’s sexual advances, they and their families will be out on the streets. Worse yet, they don’t know they have the right to fight this behavior. They feel trapped.

What Is Sexual Harassment in Housing?

Sexual harassment in housing occurs when a landlord, property manager, maintenance person, or other professional employed by a rental property makes unwanted sexual advances, sexual comments, or sexual contact with a tenant.

Sexual harassment in housing creates two types of claims:

  1. Quid Pro Quo wherein landlords offer renters a place to live or other positive reinforcement in exchange for sex.
  2. Hostile Environment wherein the sexual harassment creates an unlivable, intimidating, hostile, or offensive situation.

Quid pro quo sexual harassment applies when landlords exchange sex for rent with tenants. If a tenant provides sexual favors or engages in sexual activity with the landlord, they get to keep their home. Without knowing their rights, this arrangement may seem like the only option.

What Laws Protect Tennant Rights Against Sexual Harassment?

One reason low-income tenants give into these sexual demands is they do not know they have rights. During COVID, landlords cannot evict tenants behind on their rent because of a Coronavirus-related layoff.

However, more importantly, the Fair Housing Act (FHA) prohibits sexual harassment and other forms of housing discrimination. Whether tenants are affected by Coronavirus does not change the laws relating to sexual harassment.

Under the FHA, landlords cannot coerce a renter into having sex or exchanging sexual acts to keep a roof over their heads. Landlords cannot force tenants who refuse sexual advances to give up their security deposit because of an eviction. The FHA gives tenants the right to enjoy their homes without harassment, discrimination, and illegal activities.

In addition to the FHA, many states offer additional protections for renters against sexual harassment and coercion.

How Does the CARES Act Protect Tenants from Sexual Harassment?

The CARES Act is the Coronavirus Relief Act passed by the federal government in March 2020. The CARES Act prohibits some landlords from evicting any tenants unable to pay rent due to Coronavirus layoffs.

The CARES Act applied to the following renters:

  • Anyone receiving federal vouchers or grants for rent assistance
  • Anyone living in a rental home wherein the landlord participated in federal subsidized housing programs.
  • Anyone living in a rental home with a federally backed mortgage

The CARES Act, which expired on July 24, 2020, provided the following protections:

  • Tenants could not get evicted for failure to pay rent, fees, or charges.
  • Landlords could not charge late fees for unpaid rent.
  • After July 25, 2020, landlords must provide 30-days’ notice of eviction for non-payment of rent.

If your landlord attempted to evict you or exchange sex for rent during this time frame, the CARES Act provided legal backing to help you keep your apartment without worry.

What Other Rent Protections Helped Protect Renters After the CARES Act Expired?

The Coronavirus is not going away anytime soon. Businesses are still closed, closing, or reducing hours. Therefore, many renters still cannot pay their rent. The federal government has not passed another bill protecting renters or providing additional financial assistance. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has.

The CDC issued a temporary eviction moratorium. This moratorium went into effect on September 4, 2020. Under this order, tenants must complete a declaration that they are:

  • Attempting to obtain government help to pay the rent
  • Make less than $99,000 as a single taxpayer or $198,000 as joint taxpayers per year.
  • Are unable to pay rent in full due to significant loss of income or significant medical bills
  • Are using their best efforts to make timely rent payments whenever possible

Upon completion of the declaration, the landlord cannot evict tenants for non-payment of rent. However, tenants are still responsible for repaying those missed rent payments. Furthermore, tenants can get evicted for violating other rental agreements, like breaking the law, violating noise ordinances, and more.

The law is not retroactive. Tenants with unpaid rent between July and September must submit an application requesting to include these missing payments under the protections offered by the moratorium. Otherwise, they can still get evicted for those missing payments.

Once again, the order does not expressly prohibit sexual harassment. However, it provides tenants with a viable option to keep their housing without falling victim to sex for rent schemes.

Do Sex for Rent Schemes Violate Sex Trafficking Laws?

Sex trafficking, by definition, occurs when a person uses force, fraud, or coercion to force sexual activity in exchange for something of value. In this case, something of value for the landlord is rent money.

The Coronavirus pandemic has forced many people inside. They are already stranded inside, especially if they cannot work due to the virus. Convincing these people that they must pay rent or use their bodies in exchange for rent or risk eviction constitutes coercion. It may even constitute fraud since laws protect tenants from eviction during this time.

Therefore, landlords participating in sex for rent schemes not only violate FHA laws. They also potentially violate sex trafficking laws.

How Do Tenants Protect Themselves from Sex for Rent Schemes?

An educated tenant is a protected tenant. The best way to protect yourself from slimy landlords attempting to exchange sex for rent is to know your rights. Understanding the law and how it protects you will help you stand up for your rights.

Do not be afraid to stand up to your landlord. Find a copy of the laws protecting your right to a home without sexual harassment and print it out. Show it to your landlord when he attempts to evict you because you will not give in to his sexual advances.

If this strategy does not work, contact an experienced sexual harassment attorney to help you file charges with the Department of Justice against your landlord. When your landlord violates your rights under the FHA, you are entitled to compensation. Your landlord may find himself in both civil and criminal court for violating your rights.

A tenant can sue the landlord for damages for sexual harassment. To learn more about what a tenant must show in order to have a successful claim for sexual harassment and what damages a tenant may recover, call us at 800-807-2209 for a free consultation. The dedicated sexual harassment lawyers at the Derek Smith Law Group can help.

About Derek Smith

Attorney Derek T. Smith is an experienced sexual harassment & discrimination law litigator who has particular experience in the areas of workplace discrimination, sexual harassment, wrongful termination, civil rights litigation, employment law and civil litigation.

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