Sexual Abuse of Women in Baltimore Public Housing Complex Leads to Lawsuit

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Women are being sexually abused in exchange for basic housing repairs in a Baltimore area public housing complex. [1]. An article by ThinkProgress.org explains that women are being forced to have sex with employees of Baltimore’s public housing agency in exchange for critical repairs to their housing units, such as gas leak repairs. Some women were even threatened with violence if they refused to have sex with the employees. The lack of affordable and habitable housing in the Baltimore area is rising, and with it come numerous problems as residents are forced out of their homes due to higher cost of rent. [2]. Others find themselves in uninhabitable and deplorable housing conditions with no option of moving elsewhere. Women with families living in public housing are especially vulnerable, having to “choose” between having sex with a stranger or living in extremely dangerous homes filled with vermin, unsafe electrical wiring, and other problems.

The most egregious part of this scam is that the laws in most cities (including Baltimore) require an implied warranty of habitability, meaning that a “dwelling [should] not contain conditions which endanger the life, health and safety of the tenants, including, but not limited to vermin or rodent infestation, lack of sanitation, lack of heat, lack of running water, or lack of electricity.” [3]. A person who finds him or herself in a situation where their dwelling is uninhabitable needs to report the conditions to the landlord so that they will take care of it. If the landlord does not act, they are free to pursue other legal remedies, including reporting the conditions to the local housing agency. Unfortunately, the “landlords” in this case are the ones who are abusing women in exchange for critical repairs to an illegal and dangerous housing situation. These “landlords” are employees of Baltimore’s public housing agency, which coincidentally is the agency where a person would report any issues regarding a landlord’s inaction in an uninhabitable home. Since the people who are supposed to be protecting tenants are the ones abusing them, there is not much recourse for the women who live in public housing, even if they did know their rights as a tenant under the law. The women in these public housing units are not only being denied their rights as tenants, but they are being raped if they insist on demanding a habitable dwelling. If you or others find yourself in these situation, you should know your rights as a tenant and go to the landlord to report the following the conditions as explained in the Landlord/Tenant Handbook for Maryland: [4]

1. Lack of heat, light, electricity or water, unless you are responsible for the utilities and the utilities were shut off because you didn’t pay the bill.

2. Lack of adequate sewage disposal; rodent infestation in two or more units.

3. Lead paint hazards that the landlord has failed to reduce.

4. The existence of any structural defect that presents a serious threat to your physical safety.

5. The existence of any condition that presents a serious fire or health hazard.

 For more information on what to do if you are living under hazardous conditions, access the Landlord and Tenant Handbook for Maryland [4]. If you think you were exposed to dangerous living conditions and need legal assistance please contact Amara Legal Center. Our work focuses on providing legal services for anyone whose rights have been violated by involvement in commercial sex. We serve regardless of pathway to entry, whether it is by choice, coercion, or circumstance. A majority of our population are survivors of sex trafficking but we offer legal services to those who need them. If you would like to get in touch please contact 202-603-0957 or email referrals@amaralegal.org.

 1. http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2016/01/09/3737612/baltimore-housing-sex-settlement/

2. http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/baltimore-city/bs-md-ci-gilmore-housing–20151021-story.html

3. http://www.peoples-law.org/baltimore-city-implied-warranty-fitness

4. http://www.oag.state.md.us/Consumer/landlordTenantPDF.pdf

By Catherine Betancourt

Catherine Betancourt is a second year law student at the George Washington University Law School. She is pursuing a J.D. and is primarily interested in immigration law, with a broader focus on human rights. She hopes to influence her community in a positive way through a public interest legal career.

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