April is the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Fair Housing Month. The goal of the month is to educate the public on specific housing issues so that if they are facing them, they can seek help. Why April? On April 11, 1968, President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1968 and Title VIII of that law is known as the Fair Housing Act. The Fair Housing Act, as amended, prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of housing because of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, and family status.

This year, HUD is particularly focused on continuing its commitment to protecting the right of individuals to enjoy their homes without having to endure degrading sexual harassment or unwanted sexual advances. April also happens to be the national Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month.

That’s why the theme for Fair Housing Month 2020, “Call HUD: Because Sexual Harassment in Housing is Illegal,” is especially appropriate. The theme not only reflects HUD’s continuing efforts to combat this form of discrimination, but it is also a call to action, an appeal to those who experience discrimination, particularly survivors of sexual harassment, to seek help.

According to the Department of Justice’s Initiative to Combat Sexual Harassment in Housing, tenants and homebuyers experience harassment at the hands of landlords, property managers, maintenance workers, security guards, loan officers, and other employees or representatives of rental property owners. The fair housing act considers sexual harassment as a form of sex discrimination, prohibited under the law. Sexual harassment in housing includes demands for sex or sexual acts in order to buy, rent, or continue renting a home. It also includes other unwelcome sexual conduct that makes it hard to continue comfortably living in one’s home.

The following may be examples of sexual harassment in housing:

  • My landlord made a lot of comments about having sex with me. I ignored him. When I fell behind on rent, he said there was another way I could pay. I said no and he evicted me.
  • The housing authority inspector wouldn’t approve the apartment I wanted to rent with my voucher unless I performed a sexual act on him. I agreed in order to get my family off the street.
  • The maintenance man won’t fix anything in my apartment unless I have sex with him. I don’t know what I’m going to do about the broken heater when it gets even colder.
  • I went to look at a home to rent and the owner told me he would lower the rent if I had sex with him.
  • I wanted to buy a home. When I went to look at it, the loan officer grabbed my breasts. I said no and left immediately. I never heard about the home or the loan again.
  • The security guard in my apartment building has been talking about my body and sending me naked pictures. I asked him to stop. I came home one day and found him naked in my bed.
  • The owner of the home I rent makes comments about my body, clothes, and the sexual acts he wants me to perform on him.

If you or anyone you know has endured these types of advances, there are protections in the Fair Housing Act to stop and prevent them. Thanks to the support of Texas Access to Justice Foundation, Lone Star Legal Aid’s Fair Housing team concentrates on the right to stay in decent and affordable housing within the community and the right to choose where to live.

Lone Star Legal Aid is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit law firm focused on advocacy on behalf of low-income and underserved populations. Lone Star Legal Aid serves millions of people at 125% of federal poverty guidelines that reside in 72 counties in the eastern and Gulf Coast regions of Texas, and 4 counties of southwest Arkansas. Lone Star Legal Aid focuses its resources on maintaining, enhancing, and protecting income and economic stability; preserving housing; improving outcomes for children; establishing and sustaining family safety and stability, health and well‐being; and assisting populations with special vulnerabilities, like those who have disabilities, or who are elderly, homeless, or have limited English language skills. To learn more about Lone Star Legal Aid, visit our website at http://www.lonestarlegal.org

Media contact: Clarissa Ayala, cayala@lonestarlegal.org