DOJ Increases Efforts to Combat Sexual Harassment in Housing During the COVID-19 Pandemic
(STL.News) – United States Attorney D. Michael Dunavant of the Western District of Tennessee is 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.
The COVID-19 Pandemic has impacted the ability of many people to pay rent on time and has increased housing insecurity. The Department of Justice has heard reports of housing providers trying to exploit the crisis to sexually harass tenants. Sexual harassment in housing is illegal, and the Department of Justice stands ready to investigate such allegations and pursue enforcement actions where appropriate.
“Every person in this district deserves the right to live in a place of their choosing without fear of sexual harassment. This is not a small town issue or a big city issue, but an issue of respect and dignity. We want the women and men throughout all of West Tennessee to know that there’s someone they can turn to if you feel unsafe in your home – no matter where their home is,” said D. Michael Dunavant, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee. The U.S. Attorney’s Office continues to work closely with state and local partners to identify incidents of sexual harassment in housing.
“The Fair Housing Act authorizes the U.S. Department of Justice take swift action against anyone who sexually harasses tenants,” said Eric Dreiband, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. “Landlords, property owners, and others who prey on vulnerable tenants during the COVID-19 pandemic should be on notice. We will bring the full resources of the United States Department of Justice to the fight against sexual harassment in housing. We will defend the right of tenants and their families to live peacefully and securely in their homes without the added stress, pain, fear, and turmoil of dealing with sexual predators.”
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.
Launched in 2017, the Initiative has filed lawsuits across the county alleging a pattern or practice of sexual harassment in housing and recovered millions of dollars in damages for harassment victims. The Justice Department’s investigations frequently uncover sexual harassment that has been ongoing for years. Many individuals do not know that being sexually harassed by a housing provider can violate federal law or that the Department of Justice may be able to help.
The Department of Justice, through the Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Offices, enforces 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.