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U.S. Dept. of Justice examines complaints of sexual harassment in housing during COVID-19 pandemic

Delaware Public Media

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is increasing efforts to combat sexual harassment in housing during the coronavirus crisis.

The COVID-19 pandemic has left many people unable to pay rent or mortgages on time. And the Department of Justice is getting reports of housing providers trying to exploit the crisis by sexually harassing tenants and/or homeowners.

“The COVID-19 environment has clearly exacerbated the situation and what tenants are facing out there due to unemployment or just the difficult times that we find ourselves in for a lot of folks out there,” said David Weiss - the United States Attorney for the District of Delaware.


He says people looking for any kind of relief, including deferments, could create circumstances where tenants may be taken advantage of during the crisis.


“My hope is and my belief is - is that is a distinct minority. And that most property managers and landlords act appropriately and if anything, are of assistance to their occupants," said Weiss. "But there are those out there who take advantage of the situation and that’s what we’re trying to address.”

Weiss says the Justice Department’s Sexual Harassment in Housing Initiative, launched in 2017, is dealing with any complaints that come in.


He says sexual harassment is always an issue, but the current crisis is leaving more tenants vulnerable - exacerbating the problem.


"We’re particularly concerned that whether it’s landlords, or managers, or maintenance workers, or security folks at a certain housing project - or law officers, there are a number of individuals who because of their status or because of the vulnerability of a tenant, unfortunately are in a position to take advantage of a circumstance where a tenant just doesn’t have the financial wherewithal to make rent.”

The number to call to report sexual harassment in housing is (844) 380-6178.

Weiss says anyone caught sexually harassing a tenant or mortgage holder could be prosecuted and jailed if found guilty.

He notes Justice Department investigations frequently uncover sexual harassment that’s been going on for years.  But he says many individuals do not know being sexually harassed by a housing provider can violate federal law or that the Department of justice can help.

Kelli Steele has over 30 years of experience covering news in Delaware, Baltimore, Winchester, Virginia, Phoenix, Arizona and San Diego, California.