(STL.News) – U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman sent a letter to Northern Ohio housing advocacy groups asking anyone who has witnessed or experienced sexual harassment by a landlord, property manager, maintenance worker, or anyone with control over housing to report that conduct to the Department of Justice.
“As a result of the COVID-19 public health crisis, many in our communities have found themselves out of work, furloughed, or otherwise in dire financial straits,” said U.S. Attorney Herdman in his letter. “This has led many to seek abatements or suspensions of their rent or to seek other accommodations during this time. While many landlords and housing providers have positively responded with understanding, others have seen an opportunity to exploit the financially vulnerable through demands for sexual favors and other acts of unwelcome sexual misconduct. Please know that the U.S. Attorney’s Office remains ready to investigate complaints of sexual harassment in housing and to deploy all available enforcement tools against anyone who engages in this behavior.”
According to a recent memo from Attorney General William Barr, there have been reports of 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 illegal under the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin and disability. Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination prohibited by the Act.
The Attorney General has directed U.S. Attorney’s Offices across the country to investigate reports of housing-related sexual harassment resulting from the current COVID-19 pandemic. The Attorney’s General’s directive reaffirms the commitment that the Department of Justice made when it launched the Sexual Harassment Initiative in October 2017.
The Justice Department’s Sexual Harassment in Housing Initiative is an effort to combat sexual harassment in housing led by the Civil Rights Division, in coordination with U.S. Attorney’s Offices across the country. The goal of the Initiative is to address sexual harassment by landlords, property managers, maintenance workers, loan officers or other people who have control over housing.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Ohio will work closely with state and local partners to identify incidents of sexual harassment in housing.