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Overbey cracks down on landlord sexual harassment

COVID-19 appears to be affecting just about every aspect of an individual’s life. As non-essential workers stay home isolating, money quickly becomes tight and essentials like rent can be hard to meet.

U.S. Attorney General J. Douglas Overbey is warning landlords, property managers, maintenance workers, loan officers – or any other profession who has control over housing – that sexual harassment is prohibited by law.

Overbey asks anyone who has witnessed or experienced this type of sexual harassment to report the conduct to the Department of Justice. Overbey says that his department continues to hear reports of housing providers exploiting the crisis to sexually harass tenants.

Sexual harassment in housing is illegal, and the Department of Justice stands ready to investigate such allegations and pursue enforcement actions where appropriate, he said.

“Those that seek to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic in order to sexually harass and threaten their occupants and renters must be stopped. Our offices will continue to work with our local, state and federal partners to investigate, prevent and prosecute any housing provider seeking to take advantage of their vulnerable tenants during this time of crisis,” said Overbey.

The Justice Department Sexual Harassment in Housing Initiative is an effort led by the Civil Rights Division, in coordination with U.S. Attorney Offices across the country. The goal is to put an immediate stop to this form of sexual harassment.

Since its initial launch in 2017, the initiative has filed numerous lawsuits across the country alleging a pattern or practice of sexual harassment in housing. The Initiative has been successful in recovering millions of dollars in damages for harassment victims.

The Justice Department investigations frequently uncover sexual harassment that has been ongoing for years. Many individuals do not know that being sexually harassed by a housing provider can violate federal law or that the Department of Justice may help.

The Fair Housing Act is enforced by the Department of Justice through the Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Offices of Attorneys General. This Act prohibits discrimination in housing based on race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin or disability. In other words, sexual harassment is a sex discrimination prohibited act.

The Department encourages anyone who has experienced sexual harassment in housing, or knows someone who has, to contact the Civil Rights Division at: 844- 380-6178 or by emailing the Division at: fairhousing@usdoj.gov.

Individuals who believe they may have been victims of discrimination may also contact the Office of U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee at: https://www.justice.gov/usaoedtn/victim-witness-assistance.

Those individuals may also file a complaint alleging harassment or discrimination in housing with the Department of Housing and Urban Development through the HUD website or by calling 800- 669-9777.