KEY POINTS

  • Landlord sexual harassment complaints have increased since the pandemic
  • Tenants are coerced in a sex-for-rent agreement, which is illegal
  • Victims are advised to file police reports or seek help from legal or social services 

Tenants who can't pay rent due to the coronavirus crisis are apparently being coerced into having sex with their landlords.

The Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women confirmed receiving 10 sexual harassment complaints, so far, since the pandemic forced businesses to close and for work to stop.

Executive Director Khara Jabola-Carolus told NBC News that they received more landlord sexual harassment reports in the last two weeks than in the two years since she worked for the women's organization.

"Landlord coercion has always been a reality, but we've never seen anything like this," she said. "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."

house-1407562_1920 Landlords are taking advantage of tenants and proposing sex in exchange for free rent during this pandemic. Photo: Pixabay

Open Communities legal director Sheryl Ring disclosed that sexual harassment complaints in housing complexes in Chicago had increased at least three times the normal in the past month. Landlords are taking advantage of tenants who are experiencing financial hardships and falling back on rent payments by proposing a sex-for-rent agreement.

It comes as 22 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits since the government enforced coronavirus quarantine measures. There are moratoriums on rent and eviction in some states, but experts said this might not be able to protect tenants in the low-income and middle-income brackets.

“Unfortunately, unemployment levels are continuing to rise and delays have been reported in getting assistance to residents, which could affect May’s rent levels," Doug Bibby, the President of the National Multifamily Housing Council, said. "It is our hope that, as residents begin receiving the direct payments and the enhanced unemployment benefits the federal government passed, we will continue to see improvements in rent payments.”

Apart from state laws citing sexual harassment as illegal, the Fair Housing Act protects tenants against abusive landlords.

Tenants who experience sexual harassment from their landlords are encouraged to file a police report so that there will be a paper trail. While some courts are closed, due to the stay-at-home restrictions, tenants may still enlist help from legal or social services to give notice to the erring landlord.