Attorney General William Barr directed federal prosecutors across the country on Thursday to focus on cases where landlords have been accused of asking tenants for sexual favors in lieu of rent during the CCP virus pandemic.
Barr sent a memo to the department’s civil rights division and U.S. attorneys offices around the country urging the prosecutors to prioritize cases where landlords are allegedly taking advantage of the current public health crisis by offering to reduce or eliminate security deposits and rent in exchange for sexual contact.
“The current times are difficult enough without predatory practices by unscrupulous landlords,” Barr wrote in his memo (pdf). “We must stop such behavior in its tracks.”
The memo comes after news reports suggest that the number of complaints about alleged landlord misconduct has increased in the past few weeks.
Khara Jabola-Carolus, executive director of the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women, told NBC News that her office had received more complaints about landlords sexually harassing tenants in the past two weeks than it had for the past two years.
The Epoch Times reached out to the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women for comment and an update on the number of complaints received recently.
The pandemic has caused widespread human and economic devastation in the United States since March. Data released from the Department of Labor shows that over 4.4 million workers in the United States filed for unemployment during the week ending April 18, bringing the total unemployment claims filed in the last five weeks to 26 million.
A recent report from the National Multifamily Housing Council shows that at the beginning of April, only 69 percent of renting households were able to make full or partial payments on their rent, which is down from 81 percent during the same period in March. In the third week of April, 89 percent of households were able to make full or partial payments on rent, which is down from 93 percent the same time last year. The data is collected from a survey of 11.5 million apartment units across the country.
In his memo, Barr said that while many landlords have responded to tenant difficulties by working with them, he said some landlords have reportedly “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. And the Department of Justice has not hesitated to intervene when clear misconduct occurs. This behavior is not tolerated in normal times, and certainly will not be tolerated now,” Barr said.
The attorney general said he had directed Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Eric Dreiband and Christina Nolan, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Vermont, to oversee and coordinate the efforts.
In 2017, the Justice Department (DOJ) launched the Sexual Harassment in Housing Initiative in order to combat sexual harassment in housing from a range of people including landlords, property managers, maintenance workers, loan officers, or other people who have control over housing.
The department says after a complaint is made about sexual harassment in housing, it can investigate the report and may file a lawsuit against harassers or other people involved. The department has taken action against numerous people under the initiative. The most recent example was at the beginning of April, where the DOJ filed a lawsuit against co-owners and managers of rental properties in Russellville, Kentucky, for violating the Fair Housing Act by subjecting female tenants to sexual harassment and retaliation.