A growing number of sexual harassment reports allege landlords are using the health crisis to harass renters.
Some are even making suggestions of sex in lieu of rent.
With unemployment on the rise, and future incomes uncertain, some landlords are choosing to take advantage of vulnerable tenants.
With over 22 million Americans applying for unemployment since the start of the outbreak and social distancing measures, nearly a third of Americans were unable to pay their rent in April, according to CNN.
While many states have since implemented suspended mortgage payments, some tenants are still in limbo about the status of their rent. Even with protections against evictions, some unsavory landlords have tried to push sex onto tenants who can't pay their bills.
Sheryl Ring, the legal director of Open Communities in Chicago, Illinois, told Buzzfeed News:
"We have seen an uptick in sexual harassment... Since this started, they [landlords] have been taking advantage of the financial hardships many of their tenants have in order to coerce their tenants into a sex-for-rent agreement — which is absolutely illegal."
Indeed, the federal Fair Housing Act protects tenants from discrimination, including protections against sexual harassment. Many states and some cities also have their own specific housing laws to protect tenants from landlords hoping to make sexually exploitative agreements for a safe place to live.
Safe housing is extremely important during social distancing.
Khara Jabola-Carolus, the executive director of the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women, explained how the need for social distancing may cause tenants to consider unsafe deals with their landlords:
"The power dynamic goes without saying. All of us feel intimidated by our landlords because shelter is so critical."
Jabola-Carolus gave perspective to the rising issue, telling Buzzfeed that her office has seen more cases in the last few days than in two years.
Jabola-Carolus also wrote an online guide on what to do if your landlord has become a "property pimp", which is accessible here.
People on Twitter were disgusted by reports of landlords who would stoop so low.
@natfairhouse Beyond sickening and gross— Francie R (@Francie R) 1587085602.0
@natfairhouse What is wrong with some men? This is disgusting and evil.— kyodaison (@kyodaison) 1587075954.0
@natfairhouse This should be considered attempted rape and not any form of solicitation. It's like holding a gun toâ�¦ https://t.co/JVUIclkUFO— Bill Kennedy (@Bill Kennedy) 1587142482.0
@ambiej Thanks for reporting on this -- landlords that do this should be punished somehow, it's beyond outrageous tâ�¦ https://t.co/8fggxXt2zG— skedaddle (@skedaddle) 1587073273.0
Despite the official statements from offices that deal with housing, many online aren't taking the situation seriously.
@ambiej @DevinCow Iâ��m a landlord and have no issues with my tenant who always pays on-time, but if someone wants to role play hit me up.— Groucho Man Savage (@Groucho Man Savage) 1587092373.0
@ambiej Thank you Amber! My parents recently made me listen to them have sex because I didnâ��t chip in for HBO thisâ�¦ https://t.co/cVyNuWl2gg— DeshDawg (@DeshDawg) 1587103305.0
@BuzzFeedNews If tennants are hot and willing, this should be a reasonable form of payment. Oldest currency in the world.— ð���ð���ð��¤ð�� ð��� ð���ð���ð���ð��� (@ð���ð���ð��¤ð�� ð��� ð���ð���ð���ð���) 1587073380.0
But predatory landlords who seek sex-for-rent agreements have been an existing and common problem.
Both Jabola-Carolus and Ring confirmed that the virus is not the root cause of landlord sexploitation, and that the landlords they're referring to are usually serial offenders who are already being investigated for sexual misconduct.
Others online chimed in about the reality of the situation, some even sharing their own stories.
@ambiej In 1995 my Landlord asked to come over and work out a sexual exchange arrangement. he was an old wrinkledâ�¦ https://t.co/LcUbIEt7Ce— Ocean Makaha (@Ocean Makaha) 1587102763.0
@TheCandlemanCT @ambiej This has been known to happen far too often to women struggling to pay rent during â��normalâ��â�¦ https://t.co/uiuRgVLmBW— Kelly G ð��³ï¸�â��ð���ð��®ð��ª (@Kelly G ð��³ï¸�â��ð���ð��®ð��ª) 1587103460.0
@BuzzFeedNews This has been happening for decades and even longer!! In the 80â��s my single mother and I were kickedâ�¦ https://t.co/nCv9O4s0pL— Treena (@Treena) 1587080179.0
@BuzzFeedNews I had to leave my apartment because of my landlord doing this. He rented to felons, and other peopleâ�¦ https://t.co/r3KtBBSa5T— ildi.ivanyi (@ildi.ivanyi) 1587084405.0
@BuzzFeedNews Unfortunately this is nothing new. It happened before, and during the pandemic, and will happen afterâ�¦ https://t.co/gDx8PK4kYi— Zimm (@Zimm) 1587077917.0
This trend is especially dangerous to women of color, transgender and non-binary people and those who have uncertain immigration status or live in low-income households.
As Jabola-Carolus explained, while "stay at home" orders are effective to help slow the spread of the virus, the measures did not take into account people who live in unsafe situations, including for those who live in physically or sexually abusive homes. The unfortunate reality is that not everyone has the luxury of a simple call to the police to fix their problems.
Jabola-Carolus recommended reaching out, but warns landlords may retaliate against tenants who stick up for themselves. Renters should try to arrange an emergency place to stay temporarily when they first report their landlord.
Landlord retaliation is also illegal, and courts are overseeing such reports during the crisis.