Department of Justice combats sexual harassment by landlords amid COVID-19

Posted at 10:44 PM, Apr 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-27 22:56:36-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. Department of Justice has heard reports of landlords sexually harassing tenants who are experiencing financial hardship and unable to afford rent.

This conduct is illegal, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Michigan will tirelessly pursue landlords and others who abuse their authority by preying upon the vulnerable, according to the office today.

“Sexual harassment in housing is often underreported, but it is an egregious violation of a person’s right to fair housing,” said Andrew Birge, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Michigan.

“Landlords or property managers using the coronavirus crisis as an opportunity to extort sexual acts, or even commit assaults, against vulnerable tenants struggling to pay rent is intolerable. Our office is dedicated to uncovering such violations where they exist and vigorously enforcing the law.”

The Department of Justice, through U.S. attorney offices and the Civil Rights Division, enforces the federal 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 of Justice brings cases each year involving unlawful landlord conduct, including allegations that defendants have exposed themselves sexually to current or prospective tenants, requested sexual favors in exchange for reduced rents or making necessary repairs, made unrelenting and unwanted sexual advances to tenants and evicted tenants who resisted their sexual overtures.

More information about the department’s Sexual Harassment in Housing Initiative is available online.

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

People in West Michigan who believe they might have been victims of discrimination may also present a complaint to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Michigan by calling (616) 808-2004 or emailing