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US Attorney to landlords: Don’t demand sexual favors from financially burdened tenants during COVID-19 pandemic – or ever

“Taking advantage of tenants in this way is not only despicable - it is illegal,” said Robert Brewer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of California.
Credit: KFMB


U.S. Attorney Robert Brewer issued a warning to landlords Monday reminding them it is against the law to demand sexual favors from tenants who can’t pay rent amid the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the US Attorney's Office for the Southern District of California, Brewer is using all available tools against anyone using the coronavirus crisis to sexually harass those who are financially burdened and/or in need of housing.

As many across the country have lost income and jobs amid stay-at-home and public health orders to combat the virus, many are struggling to make ends meet. Some reports have said nearly one-third of Americans were unable to pay their April rent at the beginning of last month. Landlords and tenants expect May to be considerably worse, as the ripple effects of the shutdown spread and renters run out of savings and other emergency resources they can tap, according to a report by CalMatters  

According to Brewer, while many landlords have responded with “understanding and care,” there have been reports of others who have responded to requests for rent deferral by demanding sexual favors.  

“Taking advantage of tenants in this way is not only despicable - it is illegal,” Brewer said. “Such behavior is not tolerated in normal times, and certainly will not be tolerated now. Criminal conduct, such as the exchange of sexual favors for housing benefits, will result in an indictment.”  

Brewer has appointed Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Tenorio as COVID-19 Civil Rights Coordinator to lead investigations into possible hate crimes and civil rights violations related to the ongoing public health emergency. Tenorio is also Chairperson of the San Diego Regional Hate Crimes Coalition. 

If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual harassment by a landlord or person who has control over housing, you are advised to call 1-844-380-6178 or email fairhousing@usdoj.gov 

Individuals may also file a complaint alleging harassment or discrimination in housing with the Department of Housing and Urban Development through HUD’s website or by calling (800) 669-9777.

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