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Fifty years ago this year, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Fair Housing Act into law. The act bans discrimination in housing based on race, religion, national origin, sex, disability and family status.

The president noted that the Fair Housing Act “Proclaims that fair housing for all — all human beings who live in this country — is now a part of the American way of life.” Unfortunately for some, this ideal has fallen short. 

Every day, victims of sexual harassment in housing face horrible treatment from landlords, property managers and others who make sexual demands in exchange for the right to rent, buy or occupy a home.  

The harassment is both verbal and physical. The victims are both women and men. But most often, these predators target single women who have children or low-income tenants who have fewer housing options. But no matter who you are, when a predator has the keys, it makes it impossible to feel safe living in your own home.  

Unfortunately, most victims who experience this type of abuse never report it. They fear retaliation will endanger their ability to provide shelter for themselves and their families.  

Some harassers are right here in Michigan. In 2010, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit filed a case against a property manager who sexually harassed six tenants and the landlord who failed to supervise him. A jury found both the property manager and the landlord liable and awarded the victims $115,000 in damages.  

Unfortunately, this problem is not going away. Therefore, the U.S. Justice Department has launched a new initiative to protect the right of all people to be free from sexual harassment, and also to punish landlords or property supervisors who commit these acts. The goal of the initiative is to spread the word that the federal government has the tools — and the commitment — to investigate sexual harassment and seek compensation for the victims. Our hope is that by bringing attention to this misconduct, we can encourage more victims to come forward to report sexual harassment in housing.  

To report sexual harassment in housing, contact the Justice Department at (800) 896-7743 or fairhousing@usdoj.gov. Or, contact the U.S. Attorney’s Office at (313) 226-9151 or usamie.civilrights@usdoj.gov.

Fifty years after the passage of the Fair Housing Act, we have come a long way. But we still have work to do. Securing fair housing as part of the American way of life can be achieved when victims know it is safe to come forward, and perpetrators know we will be aggressively attacking their despicable conduct.  

Matthew Schneider is the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan. 

 

 

 

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