A person walks past the words “Rent Strike” written in large letters on the side of the Compton Hill Reservoir wall Thursday, April 2, 2020, in St. Louis.
AP Photo/Jeff Roberson
Organizations focused on fair housing have reported an increase in tenants reporting instances of sexual harassment committed by landlords amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cases include landlords offering to move in with tenants, and landlords sending “sexually explicit photos” when tenants expressed concerns about paying their rent, according to an NBC News report.
“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,” Khara Jabola-Carolus, executive director of the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women, told NBC News.
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Over the past month, fair housing organizations have reported an increase in unwanted sexual contact and propositions from landlords to their tenants as the COVID-19 pandemic has left renters across the US unsure how they will pay their rent.
Khara Jabola-Carolus, the executive director of the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women told NBC News her organization received more reports of landlords sexually harassing tenants over the previous two weeks than it had in the past two years.
“Landlord coercion has always been a reality, but we’ve never seen anything like this,” Jabola-Carolus told NBC News.
She added: “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.”
Jabola-Carolus said her organization had in the past two weeks received 10 complaints about nine landlords. While the number of cases wasn’t huge, she said it was significant because these situations are often “vastly underreported,” NBC News reported.
The harassment allegations include landlords offering to move in with tenants, and sending “sexually explicit photos” to tenants after they had expressed to their landlords concerns about paying rent amid the pandemic, according to the report.
Jabola-Carolus also pointed out to BuzzFeed News a “power dynamic” that exists between landlords and their tenants that leads renters to “feel intimidated by our landlords because shelter is so critical.”
Sheryl Ring, the legal director at Open Communities — a Chicago-based nonprofit that advocates for fair and affordable housing — told BuzzFeed News the organization had seen a 300% “uptick” in the number reported cases of sexual harassment complaints in housing over the past month. She said that transgender women and women of color were at the greatest risk of facing sexual harassment in housing.
According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Fair Housing Act prohibits landlords or property managers from sexually harassing their tenants. As BuzzFeed News noted, many states across the country have their own statutes that also prohibit sexual harassment in housing.
According to the National Multifamily Housing Council, around a third of US renters had not paid their rent for the month of April by a fifth of the month. More than 22 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits over the past four weeks — an all-time record.
Some housing advocates have called for organizing rent strikes as renters deal with the loss of wages due to social distancing and business closures. Many cities and states across the country have placed a moratorium on evictions during the pandemic, though advocates of rent strikes say these bans do not go far enough to assist struggling renters.
Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women and Open Communities did not yet respond to a request for comment.
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