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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Eastern District of Pennsylvania

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, September 26, 2018

U.S. ATTORNEY’S OFFICE HOSTS ROUNDTABLE ON SEXUAL HARASSMENT IN HOUSING

PHILADELPHIA, PA – United States Attorney William M. McSwain announced that his Office, along with the United States Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, hosted a roundtable today for community organizations to discuss the problem of sexual harassment in housing.  The event hosted organizations who routinely work with vulnerable populations most likely to become victims of sexual harassment in housing:  local law enforcement agencies, legal aid offices, fair housing organizations, shelters, and transitional housing providers. 

The Department of Justice 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.

While most people are familiar with the problem of sexual harassment in the workplace, harassment also occurs in housing, and the Fair Housing Act prohibits it.  The Justice Department brings cases each year involving various illegal 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.  Many instances of sexual harassment in housing continue to go unreported.  The Justice Department’s investigations frequently uncover sexual harassment that has been ongoing for years or decades and identify numerous victims who never reported the conduct to federal authorities.

“Sexual harassment in housing is often underreported, but it is an egregious violation of a person’s right to fair housing under federal law,” U.S. Attorney McSwain said.  “Landlords, superintendents, and others exploiting the power they have over tenants is intolerable.  Our Office is dedicated to uncovering such violations where they exist and vigorously enforcing the law.  We are working closely with the Civil Rights Division to spread the word about options to help victims who currently are experiencing sexual harassment in housing or who have experienced it in the past,” continued U.S. Attorney McSwain.  “Roundtable discussions like the one we hosted today are an important way to increase awareness, share information, and build strong partnerships in the community to combat this problem together.”

Community organizations, such as local law enforcement, legal aid offices, fair housing organizations, shelters, and transitional housing providers can identify the misconduct and encourage victims to report sexual harassment to the Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.  Local police departments or legal aid offices may also be able to help victims if the behavior is a crime or if there is an imminent eviction. 

The Department encourages anyone who has experienced sexual harassment in housing, or knows someone who has, to contact the Division by calling (844) 380-6178 or emailing fairhousing@usdoj.gov.  Individuals who believe they may have been victims of discrimination may also file a complaint with the U.S. Attorney’s Office at 615 Chestnut Street, Suite 1250, Philadelphia, PA 19106, ATTN: Jacqueline C. Romero, Civil Rights Coordinator.

Updated September 26, 2018