While Americans across the country are struggling to pay rent during the coronavirus pandemic, a number of landlords are reportedly offering sex in exchange for rent. Earlier this week, Inside Edition found a New York landlord who reportedly solicited sex from potential tenants in a Craigslist ad. In April, BuzzFeed reported the number of sexual harassment claims against landlords has been on the rise during the pandemic.
Inside Edition tracked down a landlord who calls himself Eddie after spotting his Craigslist ad titled "Room Share for Submissive Female." Within the ad, Eddie wrote, "During these hard times covid-19 has thrown many in a tail spin... If you are a submissive female (20- 50) years old and into the SM lifestyle on a moderate to extreme level... and wanting to barter session/playtime once per week in lieu of rent we should talk."
An Inside Edition producer posed as a potential tenant and responded to the ad. Eddie said he would try the "arrangement" at a hotel room first and gave the producer "bizarre instructions." The producer reported, "He says to wear my hair down, no jewelry and minimal makeup. And then meet him in the room, undress and put on a pair of stilettos he got me."
Later, the producer met Eddie at a Long Island Days Inn with a hidden camera and her team posted throughout the parking lot. The landlord texted her to say he already checked into the hotel room. The producer asked Eddie to meet her by her car instead, and he complied. The Inside Edition crew then jumped into action and asked him if he was trying to take advantage of women. "No. She had the choice to take up on the offer," he said, denying how he was asking for sex. Eddie later called Inside Edition to apologize and said he is a "decent guy."
This is not just an issue in New York. Sheryl Ring, legal director at Open Communities, a legal aid and fair housing agency in Illinois, told BuzzFeed on April 15 they saw sexual harassment complaints linked to housing triple in the previous month. "Since this started, they [landlords] have been taking advantage of the financial hardships many of their tenants have in order to coerce their tenants into a sex-for-rent agreement — which is absolutely illegal," Ring said.
U.S. Attorney General William Barr picked Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Eric Dreiband and Christina Nolan, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Vermont, to oversee the Department of Justice's investigations into the issue of rising sexual harassment complaints in housing. The federal Fair Housing Act protects tenants from sexual discrimination from landlords.
"It is always despicable to exploit vulnerabilities by sexually harassing those in need of housing," Nolan said in a statement. "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."