DOJ Warns San Diego Landlords Against Tenant Coercion During Pandemic
With many renters struggling to make ends meet during the coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California is warning landlords not to resort to sexual harassment or demanding sexual favors in lieu of rent.
While the federal prosecutors in San Diego haven’t seen any instances of this type of sexual coercion so far during the pandemic, they want tenants to know they can reach out to their office about possible violations of the Fair Housing Act.
“One of the things we look at generally when investigating civil rights is an exploitation of a vulnerability. Whether that vulnerability is someone here without documents or women and children in the trafficking arena,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Tenorio, the civil rights coordinator at the Southern District. He’s tasked with investigations into hate crimes, human trafficking, and housing discrimination.
“Here, the pandemic is just creating more vulnerabilities for people whether it’s economic or situational. So if someone is unable to pay the rent or unable to get housing they might be more vulnerable to coercion of some type,” Tenorio said.
Legal service providers also want tenants to know that despite the pandemic, their rights as tenants against harassment are still in effect.
“We have had occasions where landlords use their power and privilege of power over women, particularly women of color, to try to force inappropriate behavior upon them in exchange for getting the apartment, paying for the apartment, all sorts of things,” said Greg Knoll of the Legal Aid Society of San Diego.
Knoll cautioned this happens with a very small minority of landlords. Still, he says he’s happy to see the federal government step in on behalf of protecting tenants, especially during a time when so many are vulnerable to unscrupulous landlords.