The coronavirus lockdown coupled with the dwindling economy has left many US citizens either jobless or cash-strapped. The worst hit are tenants who are now facing the threat of eviction over non-payment of rent. A report has revealed how some scheming landlords are forcing their struggling tenants to sign "sex-for-rent" agreements.
Despite being one of the strongest economies of the world, the US has now emerged as the new epicentre of coronavirus.
Cases of sexual harassment by landlords
A BuzzFeed report claimed thatsince the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Hawaii alone has seen 10 complaints of sexual harassment filed by tenants against their landlords. The complaints have been registered with the state's Commission on the Status of Women.
Confirming the harassment cases, the executive director of the commission, Khara Jabola-Carolus, told the publication: "We've received more cases at our office in the last two days than we have in the last two years."
Stating that the pandemic is not the only reason for this heinous act, Jabola-Carolus added: "Of course that's not the root cause of why it's happening, but it makes it easier because now [landlords] have access to people at their fingertips."
The publication also reported the case of a recently unemployed woman from Hawaii. She was reportedly asked by his landlord to engage in a sexual act with him by spooning at his place, after she requested delayed payment of rent.
Landlords forcing 'sex-for-rent' is illegal
Tenants are protected from sexual discrimination by their landlords under the federal Fair Housing Act. The Act includes prospective landlords. Many US states have also outlined strict housing laws protecting tenants from sexual harassment or discrimination at the hands of their landlords.
Speaking to the BuzzFeed News, Sheryl Ring, the legal director at Open Communities, a Chicago-based legal aid and fair housing agency, said they have seen a threefold increase in housing-related sexual harassment complaints over the past month.
"We have seen an uptick in sexual harassment. Since this started, [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."
"We've heard some landlords are attempting to use the situation where a tenant falls behind to pressure a tenant into exchanging sex for rent," she added.
Urging tenants to not give in to sexual demands of their landlords, Ring asked them to approach the authorities. "It's important to know what your rights are as quickly as possible, Even now, just because courts are closed to most things, it doesn't mean you do not have recourse right now and can't be protected," she said.