In New York and elsewhere, there is an outrageous trend occurring. Landlords take advantage of poor tenants — especially women of color — by demanding sexual favors in exchange for not seeking eviction.
One Oswego-area landlord, according to a civil lawsuit the Department of Justice filed in 2018, groped women tenants and threatened them with eviction if they refused his sexual advances. He offered to reduce or waive their rent in exchange for sex. When they refused him, he retaliated by refusing to make necessary repairs.
In August, the landlord agreed to settle the Justice Department lawsuit for $850,000. He will also be barred from renting or managing residential properties.
That’s a win, but unfortunately, the story is all-too-common. Desperate tenants are afraid to complain lest they lose their housing situation. Because they’re poor, they sometimes feel that sexual harassment or even misconduct is just something they have to deal with.
Tenants face reporting difficulties
Sometimes, women complain to the police only to be charged with prostitution if they are seen to have traded sex for housing.
Recently, however, HUD and the Justice Department have been taking action on the issue. That is partly because women have been filing more housing-related sexual harassment complaints with the agency. In 2019, HUD received 246 complaints of housing-related sexual harassment and misconduct. That was more than twice the 103 complaints in 2017.
And, the National Alliance for Fair Housing reports that in 2018, the Department of Justice filed six lawsuits in which it alleged a landlord had engaged in a “pattern or practice” of sexual harassment. That’s more than it has filed in any prior year.
Part of the change undoubtedly comes from the #MeToo movement. However, HUD also launched a joint initiative with the Justice Department in 2018 to raise public awareness and help victims come forward about housing-based sexual harassment.
“Women told us they never knew they had a right to file a complaint,” said a HUD spokesperson.
There is hope
Sexual harassment violates the Fair Housing Act, and HUD administers that act. Upon learning of a Fair Housing violation, HUD can put the landlord’s property into receivership and keep the landlord from having further contact with the tenants. The Justice Department typically goes after landlords with multiple complaints, meaning they may be engaging in a “pattern and practice” of discrimination.
If you’re dealing with landlord sexual harassment, help is available. Contact a landlord-tenant attorney right away.