HONOLULU, HI — With unemployment rates rising due to the coronavirus pandemic, some landlords are reportedly taking advantage of the opportunity, preying on tenants’ financial stress to request for sexual favors and arrangements.
Victims have reported receiving private pictures, along with requests to go on dates or staying at their apartments in exchange for rent forgiveness.
“I’m really concerned about immigrant women including Filipinas because they take advantage of the extra vulnerable status and assuming maybe that immigrants don’t know their rights, but it doesn’t matter what your immigration status is, your landlord, it’s illegal for your landlord to do this and it’s also illegal for your landlord to retaliate even if you’re an immigrant.”
Khara Jabola-Carolus shared that she has seen more complaints during the pandemic, in comparison to her last two years of working at the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women.
In the month of April alone, they received about eleven cases — and of those cases, ten of them came from immigrant women. But many cases go vastly underreported.
“If you know someone or have a friend who is mentioning that their landlord was making a proposal that was making them uncomfortable, that was sexually explicit or seems like sexual harassment, you should know that that’s highly illegal, um, and a violation of a number of state and federal laws.”
Community advocates fear that there will be heightened reports of sexual harassment by landlords in the upcoming months as tenants continue to struggle financially.
“I think a lot of people listen to the stories from immigrant women here who had been abused. And so the federal U.S. Department of Justice, within just two weeks, issued a mandate across the U.S. that every single us attorney’s office has to make this a priority to go after landlords who are taking advantage of coronavirus.”
While it is not the main office taking complaints, the Hawaii State Commission on the status of women will offer guidance on emergency rent assistance. To file a complaint, contact your state’s federal fair housing division at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.