Housing Minister to investigate scale of 'sex for rent' incidents taking place

Housing Minister to investigate scale of 'sex for rent' incidents taking place

Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy has confirmed he will investigate the scale of "sex for rent" incidents taking place amid fears the situation will become "the #metoo moment for the housing crisis".

Mr Murphy said he is taking immediate action to examine the potential scale of the claims and that he is in touch with the Department of Justice about the "criminal activity" after an individual case was raised by opposition TDs.

In a shock moment in the Dáil on Wednesday, Solidarity-People Before Profit TD Ruth Coppinger highlighted the case of a young woman who she said was propositioned by her landlord three times.

Reading text messages from the landlord to the woman, Ms Coppinger said in the days before she was due to leave because of the cost of rent - and potentially face homelessness - her landlord sent her messages effectively asking for sexual favours in return for her staying.

During an Oireachtas housing committee meeting shortly after the Dáil discussion, Ms Coppinger's Solidarity-PBP colleague and Cork North Central TD Mick Barry raised the same issue with Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy, saying: "#sexisnotrent is now a housing question. I met the woman in question along with Ms Coppinger recently. Do you accept the housing crisis seriously increases the vulnerability of woman in cases such as this?

"What steps do you propose to take to ensure people in such a situation are safe to speak out without fear of eviction? What steps take to gauge the prevalence of problem in the society of this State?

"Our offices have been contacted by quite a lot of people in last hour, hour and a half, people who are HAP tenants, and it seems to be the case some landlords interviewing people for HAP tenancies are raising the view here of sexual favours if you get the nod here. What action might be taken?

"I met the woman with Deputy Coppinger recently, she was a working woman, the idea of having a place on her own was a real difficulty because of the high cost of rent, so she had been sharing accommodation with a friend, direct connection there with housing crisis.

"The friend decided to leave. The woman in question was facing the issue of homelessness. The landlord then found himself in a position of power of a young woman, some of the texts were made in a matter of days.

There were three offers made to the young woman. The landlord was in his mid-60s.

One offer was to solve the problem by living with me. One was to come to dinner and see what happens. Or, if things went the right way, there could be free no charge on the rent.

"In Britain there are 250,000 estimated cases of this type of situation. I think there must be many cases in this country, this could be a #metoo moment for the housing crisis, I would encourage people to speak out about this.

"I would be stunned if this was the only case, I know it is not the only case. Now is the time for people to speak out, let's lift the lid on the uglier side of the housing crisis," Mr Barry said.

In response, Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy confirmed he will take action including the possibility of new laws, said the incident as described was "criminal" and revealed since learning of the incident today he has already contacted his officials to ask them to examine if statistics on the issue can be compiled.

"If what you are saying happened, happened, then that's illegal and is a matter for the gardaí. My office is contacting the Department of Justice about how to compile statistics in this area.

"Policy responses may be needed, and if they are, then they won't just fall to this side [of Government or the State], they are a criminal issue."

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