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Sex For Shelter: Court Tells Landlord To Stop Sexually Harassing Tenants

Sex For Shelter: Court Tells Landlord To Stop Sexually Harassing Tenants

In many ways Yolanda Boswell is like many other low-income women looking for an affordable, safe place to live.  Unfortunately, that means dealing with repeated attempts by her landlord to coerce Boswell into having sex with him.  When she refused those advances her landlord raised her rent and threatened to evict her.  Instead of giving in to the demands, Boswell fought back.

These actions, reprehensible on their face, violate a host of civil rights legislation, including the federal Fair Housing Act which prohibits discrimination in housing based on race, color, national origin, sex, religion, familial status and disability.  Just last week a federal court in Alabama ordered the owner of the rental units, and the property manager, to pay Boswell damages in excess of $50,000 for Boswell’s sexual harassment claims.

Sexual harassment in housing is a systematic, though often unchallenged, civil rights problem.  Particularly during the recent real estate boom when good quality affordable rental housing came at a premium, low-income tenants like Boswell would fall prey to unscrupulous landlords looking to take advantage of vulnerable individuals.  As the real estate market has leveled off, the number of Fair Housing Act claims appear to be on the rise as affordable rental housing becomes easier to find and tenants find themselves with a few more options than say two years ago.

In Boswell’s case the history of sexual harassment was well documented.  Boswell had called the property owner and complained on several occasions, and recorded phone conversations between Boswell and the landlord showed the landlord discussing Boswell’s rent, indicating that amount was dependent upon whether or not she would have sex with him.  

In addition to the suit filed by the ACLU and Alabama Legal Services on behalf of Boswell, the Department of Justice has filed its own, separate piece of litigation alleging that the property owner and their agents have sexually harassed scores of other women across properties throughout Alabama.  According to the Department of Justice, the property owner and its agents engaged in a pattern and practice of trying to exchange sex for reduced rent or continued housing.   

Unfortunately this is not a problem unique to Alabama.  But, as the Alabama case garners national attention, housing activists hope to raise the issue of sexual harassment in housing simultaneously.  The bottom line is that women, regardless of their background have a right to rent safe, affordable housing without fearing for their personal safety.  As the Alabama case shows, it appears as though the federal courts and the Department of Justice are now taking notice.

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photo courtesy of sashafatcat via Flickr

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8 comments

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2:06PM PDT on Jun 21, 2009

What some desparate people will do. I hope they throw that landlord's ass in jail. Don't drop the soap Mr. Landlord.

5:50PM PDT on Jun 13, 2009

Thanks Shawn, though please note I didn't post this original blog posting; I merely saw it and posted a link to it on the Care2 news.

1:07PM PDT on Jun 13, 2009

I totally agree that low income tenants should NOT be harassed or coerced into sex. I also think that if the TENANT wants to offer sex for rent, it's the tenants right.

1:05AM PDT on Jun 10, 2009

dear Judy Shepard how you must have sufferd these 10yrs my heart goes out to you i can't understand how people can be so cruel i do not know what the law can do to help you but i do hope and pray you have found some peace.

11:05PM PDT on Jun 9, 2009

I worked as a Correctional Officer in the 60's and 70's at a men's prison. I was the only woman working there. Many of the inmates wives told me that the small town near the prison had low-income rentals and the practice of landlords using need as a weapon to explot these women. Many who had low incomes and small children.

8:04AM PDT on Jun 9, 2009

Taking advantage of the needs of any fellow being should be punished with enough force to effectively deter any future attempts by potential abusers. How about a 1-800-ABUSE hotline and prompt, efficient protective action? WHEN WILL THE LEGAL SYSTEM BE BROUGHT UP TO OUR TIMES AND CIRCUMSTANCES?

5:25AM PDT on Jun 9, 2009

This type of thing doesn't surprise me.
Now, that this is a major case in Alabama, and this issue is getting National attention.
I can't think of a better medium to get this message out, that this type of behavior is illegal, and the Law will find those that think they can exploit these women
Thank you for posting this Monica

6:45PM PDT on Jun 8, 2009

It is sad to see the vulnerable being dumped on again by the unscrupulous. I have submitted this as a news item on Care2 so people can note it that way as well.

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