Burlington – United States Attorney General William Barr has directed Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Eric Dreiband and Christina Nolan, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Vermont, to oversee and coordinate the Department of Justice’s efforts to address this issue during the current pandemic.
As the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the ability of many people to timely pay rent and 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 vigorously and pursue enforcement actions where appropriate.
“It is always despicable to exploit vulnerabilities by sexually harassing those in need of housing,” said U.S. Attorney Christina Nolan. “Doing so during a global pandemic, when so many are struggling just to make ends meet, is particularly abhorrent. We thank those in our communities, including landlords and property owners, who are coming together to support those who are hardest hit financially. Sadly, there are some who do the opposite, by sexually exploiting those afraid of losing their homes. This conduct will not be tolerated, and they will be held accountable.” The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Vermont will work closely with state and local partners to identify any incidents of sexual harassment in housing and will use all available enforcement tools against perpetrators.
“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 of the Department of Justice, 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 14 lawsuits 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 or decades. Some victims do not know that being sexually harassed by a person in control of their housing can violate federal law.
The Department of Justice, through the U.S. Attorney’s Offices and the Civil Rights Division, 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.
The Department encourages anyone who has experienced sexual harassment in housing, or knows someone who has, to contact the Civil Rights Division by calling (844) 380-6178 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Individuals who believe they may have been victims of discrimination may also file a complaint with the U.S. Attorney’s Office by filling out the Complaint Form, which can be found at https://www.justice.gov/usao-vt.