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Offering housing in exchange for sex is illegal. We must do a better job of protecting tenants

3 min read

An amendment is needed to the Renters’ Reform Bill to prosecute “sex for rent” landlords and reassure victims they won’t be accused of prostitution

I first became aware of the problem of “sex for rent” when the Victoria Derbyshire programme reported on the scandal back in the summer of 2018. Sex for rent is the practice of landlords offering housing in exchange for sex.

In the context of the housing crisis, these arrangements have become alarmingly common. For thousands of people across the country, rent has become unaffordable and the threat of homelessness all too real.

Despicably, some landlords are taking advantage of this to exploit vulnerable people who are desperate for somewhere to live.

It was, and is, vile. And I decided to do something about it. There are laws against soliciting prostitution and so placing this type of advert should be illegal, surely?

Of course, these situations can be complicated and there are always those who would rather scrutinise the victims as opposed to the perpetrators. These commentators are wrong to do this.

Fundamentally, I do not believe that sex can be consensual in a situation where someone’s basic needs – including housing – are threatened if they refuse.

“Almost a year has passed since the CPS updated its guidance and there still has not been a single successful prosecution for sex for rent. A new approach is needed”

After months of campaigning in Parliament, we made a breakthrough. The Government agreed to update the Crown Prosecution Service’s guidance to include sex for rent specifically, making it crystal clear that these arrangements are illegal. Having worked tirelessly behind the scenes, meeting with ministers and speaking to the media, I was thrilled.

Unfortunately, as I found out a few weeks ago, the practice of sex for rent is on the increase. Even worse, the new guidelines have meant very little when it comes to being able to prosecute the landlords who take advantage of tenants in this way.

Almost a year has passed since the CPS updated its guidance and there still has not been a single successful prosecution for sex for rent. A new approach is needed.

Speaking to legal experts, they raise the concern that anyone bringing a case against a landlord could risk being labelled a prostitute. For this reason, victims feel afraid to come forward – concerned that by involving the law they put themselves in jeopardy. And the worst part is, as the law currently stands, that could easily be the case.

Our system is failing these victims, pressuring them into silence. That leaves predatory landlords free to continue a cycle of coercive sex for rent arrangements.

The legal ambiguity must be ended. We must be able to prosecute landlords who commit this crime, while reassuring victims that it is not their fault and without dragging them into the spotlight.

We need to place a specific duty on landlords not to pursue sex for rent arrangements. I will be putting down an amendment to the Government’s forthcoming Renters’ Reform Bill to do exactly that: provide a mechanism in law to prosecute landlords who exploit their tenants.

This is an appalling practice and, as I have learned in the last year and a half, it is also a complicated issue. It will not go away by itself and we must act now in order to stop it becoming common place.

Most importantly, the victims of sex for rent arrangements need clarity and justice. And this is what I will be fighting for with my amendment to the Renters’ Reform Bill.

Wera Hobhouse is Liberal Democrat MP for Bath

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