Attorney General William Barr on Thursday urged federal prosecutors to crack down on landlords demanding sex from tenants during the coronavirus pandemic.
“The current times are difficult enough without predatory practices by unscrupulous landlords,” Barr wrote in a memo to US attorneys.
Many people are struggling to pay rent due to the crisis that’s left at least 26 million people without jobs and others with reduced income.
Some news reports indicate landlords are demanding sex in lieu of payment.
NBC News reported this month that Hawaii’s Commission on the Status of Women received “more reports of landlords sexually harassing their tenants in the last two weeks than it had in the [previous] two years.”
Barr’s memo, shared with The Post, instructs federal prosecutors to “deploy all available enforcement tools against anyone who tries to capitalize on the current crisis by sexually harassing people in need of housing.”
While many landlords are working with their tenants, Barr wrote, “There have been reports… of other landlords who have responded to requests to defer rent payments with demands for sexual favors and other acts of unwelcome sexual conduct. Such behavior is despicable and it is illegal.”
Barr cited “reports that nearly one third of Americans were unable to pay their April rent at the beginning of the month” as underscoring his concern.
“The Department of Justice has not hesitated to intervene when clear misconduct occurs,” Barr wrote. “This behavior is not tolerated in normal times, and certainly will not be tolerated now. I am therefore directing the Civil Rights Division and every U.S. Attorney’s Office to devote all necessary resources to investigate reports of housing-related sexual harassment resulting from the current crisis.”
Barr wrote that the Justice Department, through its Sexual Harassment in Housing Initiative, recently “obtained $400,000 in monetary damages on behalf of a landlord’s former tenants and potential tenants who were subjected to unwanted sexual intercourse, other unwanted sexual contact, unwanted sexual advances, and offers to reduce or eliminate security deposits and rent in exchange for sexual contact.”
The federal anti-harassment office is available to help federal prosecutors with “investigating and bringing to justice any landlord or other person who has control over housing and engages in this sort of misconduct,” Barr wrote.