Barr calls for investigations into landlords demanding sexual favors in place of rent

Barr calls for investigations into landlords demanding sexual favors in place of rent
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Attorney General William BarrBill BarrDemocrats' silence on our summer of violence is a tactical blunder Trump prizes loyalty over competence — we are seeing the results Rep. Raúl Grijalva tests positive for COVID-19 MORE on Wednesday called on U.S. attorneys to "devote all necessary resources" to investigating reports of landlords who have allegedly demanded sexual favors in exchange for delayed rent payments or housing agreements.

“As the country adopts drastic measures to slow the spread of COVID-19, many Americans have lost their jobs and many more have seen their wages curtailed. These losses have forced many to seek abatements or suspensions of their rent, with reports that nearly one-third of Americans were unable to pay their April rent at the beginning of the month. Many landlords have responded to these circumstances with understanding and care, trying to work with their tenants to weather the current crisis. They should be commended for those efforts,” Barr wrote in a memo shared with The Hill. 

“There have been reports, however, 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. 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,” he continued. 

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Barr said in the memo that he is directing U.S. attorneys “to deploy all available enforcement tools against anyone who tries to capitalize on the current crisis by sexually harassing people in need of housing."  

The attorney general added that he is directing the Assistant Attorney General For Civil Rights Eric Dreiband and the U.S. Attorney for the District of Vermont to oversee the efforts.

“Many reports of housing-related sexual harassment will be made locally and it is imperative that state and local officials understand that the Justice Department stands ready to take aggressive action against this misconduct whenever it occurs,” Barr added, the outlet reported. 

“The current times are difficult enough without predatory practices by unscrupulous landlords. We must stop such behavior in its tracks,” he noted. 

The move follows reports of advocates saying that they have seen a spike in landlords soliciting sexual contact in exchange for rent from tenants. Khara Jabola-Carolus, the executive director of the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women, told NBC News that her office has seen an increase in reports of landlords harassing their tenants. 

"Landlord coercion has always been a reality, but we've never seen anything like this," Jabola-Carolus told NBC. "The coronavirus creates the perfect conditions for landlords who want to do this because not only are people being instructed to stay home, but the virus has added to the economic stress with people losing their jobs, especially in Hawaii, which is driven by tourism."

Claims for jobless benefits have reached historic highs amid the coronavirus pandemic. More than 26 million Americans have applied for their first round of unemployment insurance since March.