MARYLAND — Maryland U.S. Attorney Robert K. Hur is warning landlords and property managers against taking advantage of the coronavirus crisis by asking cash-strapped tenants for sexual favors in exchange for rent accommodations.
In a press release, Hur said federal prosecutors have received reports of housing providers sexually harassing renters and urged victims and witnesses to report any incidents to the U.S. Department of Justice.
He did not reveal how many cases the department has received, but said officials stand "ready to investigate such allegations and pursue enforcement actions where appropriate."
"It is reprehensible that some try to take advantage of this global pandemic at the expense of the most vulnerable," Hur said. "The U.S. Attorney's Office and our law enforcement partners are committed to working together to identify incidents of sexual harassment in housing and bring these criminals to justice. I urge everyone to remain vigilant and if you see something that doesn't seem right, please report it."
Back in 2017, the Justice Department launched the Sexual Harassment in Housing Initiative in a bid to crack down on the predatory practice. The goal is to investigate sexual harassment by landlords, property managers, loan officers, maintenance workers, or others who have control over housing.
The Justice Department's investigations frequently uncover sexual harassment that has been going on for years, officials said.
Hur encourages anyone who has experienced or witnessed sexual harassment in housing to call 844-380-6178 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. People can also reach out to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Maryland at 410-209-4800, or file a complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Complaints can be filed through HUD's website or by calling 800-669-9777.
In addition to sexual harassment-related incidents in housing, landlords and property managers aren't allowed to evict tenants who show they can't make rent due to COVID-19.
In March, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) issued an executive order prohibiting evictions from taking place during the public health crisis.