Content warning: Sexual offences
Research conducted by Generation Rent and Mumsnet has revealed a shocking prevalence of predatory behaviour, from unscrupulous landlords and letting agents towards tenants, in the private rented sector.
In a survey of 1045 submissions, respondents reported that unscrupulous landlords or letting agents had acted inappropriately or predatorily towards them in the past:
- 4% of respondents had been offered free or discounted rent in exchange for sexual favours
- 14% had experienced suggestive remarks
- 12% heard comments of a sexual nature
- 11% experienced unwanted comments about their body or appearance
- 4% had experienced unwanted touching
And private renters not in a relationship and on lower incomes were significantly more likely to report that they had experienced harassment and abuse.
'Sex for Rent'
Over 200,000 female private renters could be offered discounted rent in exchange for sexual acts at some point in their lives, a recent survey conducted by Generation Rent and Mumsnet has revealed.
Generation Rent estimate that as many as 200,043 female private renters could have been offered free or discounted rent in exchange for sexual favours.
4% of private renters who responded to the survey reported that they had been offered discounted or free rent by a landlord or letting agent.
Shockingly, this figure rose to 5% of respondents who were not in a relationship and 1 in 10 respondents with incomes of less than £20,000.
Testimonies from the survey reveal that vulnerable women (especially financially vulnerable women) are most at risk of being targeted by predators for ‘Sex for Rent’.
One respondent said: “I was a young girl of 17 with a baby renting to get away from an abusive family at the time when I was approached by one of the two landlords who owned the property I was staying at. He intimidated me continuously, making me feel extremely ugly, horrible, that I was a cheap girl that needed him and his help. When I turned him down he got so nasty.”
As well as explicit ‘Sex for Rent’ propositions, respondents also reported that more general predatory behaviour was often displayed by unscrupulous landlords and letting agents during periods of economic instability.
Another respondent said: “Both times the landlord has used my poverty (being a student then being a young person fleeing abuse) to ask for sex/make lude comments, knowing I depend on a reference from him to move elsewhere.”
The survey also drew light on other prevalent forms of predatory behaviour.
Over a quarter of respondents (27%) indicated that they had experienced unwanted presence at their property from an unscrupulous landlord or letting agent.
Almost 1 in 7 participants (14%) said that they had experienced suggestive remarks or ‘jokes’ of a sexual nature from a landlord or letting agent.
This rose to a shocking 28% amongst respondents with an income below £20,000. Meanwhile, nearly 1 in 5 participants who said they were not in a relationship also stated that they had experienced this predatory behaviour.
12% of participants reported that they had received unwanted comments about their body or appearance
and 11% said they had heard comments of a sexual nature.
Again, those not in a relationship and on lower incomes were more likely to have received this treatment. 18% of respondents not in a relationship stated that they had received unwanted comments about their body or appearance, and 17% that they had heard comments of a sexual nature. Over a quarter (26%) of respondents with a household income of £20,000 or below reported that they had received unwanted comments about their body or appearance and that they had heard comments of a sexual nature.
Messages and touching
5% of all respondents reported receiving unwanted messages of a sexual nature and 4% reported unwanted touching. 8% of respondents not in a relationship said that they had received unwanted messages and unwanted touching.
Meanwhile, 12% of participants with a household income of under £20,000 reported receiving unwanted messages and 13% that they had experienced unwanted touching.
Vulnerable renters and repeated abuse
In all, over a quarter (26%) of all respondents indicated that they had experienced at least one of the predatory acts outlined at least once.
Nearly a third (33%) of respondents with a household income of less than £20,000 per year stated that they had experienced at least one of the predatory acts outlined. 88% of these participants said that they had experienced the outlined abuses more than once, 50% reported that they had experienced them five times or more.
All respondents that had experienced a form of predatory behaviour outlined were also significantly more likely to report repeated abuse. 79% of respondents who had experienced any of the listed predatory acts said that they had experienced them more than once.
This suggests that there is a clear targeting of certain private renters perceived as vulnerable, and that those individuals experience repeated abuses.
What needs to be done?
The law itself has made it extremely difficult for victims in Sex for Rent cases to seek justice. According to this law, victims must be legally defined as ‘prostitutes’, which acts as a huge deterrent for victims seeking justice.
‘Sex for Rent’ was affirmed as a sexual offence in 2017 by the Ministry of Justice. However, only one person has ever been convicted in a ‘Sex for Rent’ case. The law is clearly not working to protect private renters from 'Sex for Rent'.
In March the Government committed to launching a public consultation in the summer of 2022 which will investigate the need for a dedicated ‘Sex for Rent’ law, yet no consultation has taken place. They also confirmed that the hosting of ‘Sex for Rent’ ads would be banned in the Online Safety Bill, which is yet to complete its legislative journey.
It is disappointing that legislative change to tackle this has been delayed and the public consultation was not launched this summer. It would be devastating if these commitments are not honoured.
The Equality Act 2010 meanwhile is the most recent and relevant mechanism through which victims of sexual harassment and assault can take action against their perpetrators. However, victims have only 6 months to submit their claims. This means that many are unable to have submit their cases in time, even if they report the abuse or harassment immediately
Finally, private renters, especially those in receipt of benefits, have few affordable options available to them on the market. There is a real risk that many feel they must endure predatory behaviour to secure and remain in their home or face homelessness. And, as the cost-of-living crisis continues, tenants are only being put into more desperate and vulnerable situations.
We are calling on the government to...
1. Make ‘Sex for Rent’ a specific criminal offence
2. Ensure the Online Safety Bill classes ‘Sex for Rent’ adverts as priority illegal content, and web platforms that advertise these arrangements face financial penalties
3. Increase legal aid so that all can access representation, support and justice
4. Amend the Equality 2010 Act to extend the 6 months’ time limit currently imposed on potential victims to bring their claims to court to 2 years.
5. Provide proper support for financial vulnerable renters by raising Local Housing Allowance, scrapping the benefits cap, and increasing Discretionary Housing Payments funding to local authorities.
Can you support our campaign to protect private renters from predators amidst a cost-of-living crisis? Sign up here.
You can read the full report here.
More information about the only ‘Sex for Rent’ case can be found here.