Joe Kelly, the U.S. attorney for Nebraska, is cautioning against predatory practices related to COVID-19 and housing.

Kelly has announced an effort to investigate and prosecute those who engage in housing-related sexual harassment. That behavior is illegal under the Fair Housing Act.

Many Americans have lost jobs or have had wages reduced because of the efforts to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. That has caused many people to seek delays or suspensions of rent.

While the majority of landlords have tried working with tenants to weather the crisis, Kelly said in a press release, some people have reported landlords who have demanded sexual favors and other acts of unwelcome sexual contact in return.

Many people who experience this type of abuse don’t report it for fear of retaliation.

“These predatory practices related to COVID-19 are particularly disturbing as these landlords exploit this national crisis by sexually harassing people in need of housing,” Kelly said. “We will not hesitate to intervene when this occurs. This is not tolerated in normal times, and certainly will not be tolerated now.”

Anyone who has experienced sexual harassment in housing should contact the Department of Justice Sexual Harassment in Housing hotline at 844-380-6178 or email fairhousing@usdoj.gov. Complaints can be mailed to the U.S. Attorney’s Office to the attention of Laurie Kelly, civil rights coordinator, at 1620 Dodge St., Suite 1400, Omaha, NE 68102.

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