Harassment by landlords on the rise, group says

April 22, 2002|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

WASHINGTON - They didn't leave their names, and they didn't say where they lived.

But a few months ago, Tracey Gill started hearing their stories on her message machine.

"These women were saying that their landlords were requesting sex in return for letting them stay in their apartments - demanding sex, I guess is more like it," said Gill, fair housing program manager at Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc. "It was just disgusting."

But it was not the first time Gill had heard such a tale.

"Year before last," she said, "we did have a woman who filed a complaint against a mortgage loan officer who basically said that only way she was going to get that loan was if she would `put out,' so to speak."

The story is growing common to housing advocates across the the country, who say women are increasingly filing complaints that men are demanding sexual favors for lease continuations, utilities hookups or maintenance services.

The circumstances are particularly terrifying, advocates say, because landlords and building custodians can easily become stalkers and often have keys to victims' apartments.

Though no statistics are available on how prevalent the problem has become, the National Fair Housing Alliance reported this month that it has fielded more complaints about sexual harassment in housing this year than ever before.

"It's a pattern that seems to be emerging that it's low-income women who might have a subsidy and have little housing choice," said Anne Houghtaling, enforcement director for the advocacy agency. "A landlord can have five applications for one apartment, so he can say, `Hey honey, guess what, if you want it, here's what you're going to have to do.'"

Officials in Montgomery County, Md., said they have received several complaints of sexual harassment but would not provide details.

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