Offering a room under sex for rent conditions is illegal but that hasn’t stopped vulnerable renters, often women, being targeted in online ads. Image: Christin Hume / Unsplash
Ministers are considering a new law to protect vulnerable renters from sex for rent arrangements.
The Home Office announced a consultation on April 21 to find whether new laws go far enough to prevent landlords from exploiting tenants by offering a discount or no rent in exchange for sexual favours.
Home secretary Suella Braverman said: “It’s wholly unacceptable that vulnerable people, and particularly young women, are being exploited in ‘sex for rent’ arrangements. This is an abuse of power which puts people in desperate situations and has no place in our country.
“The launch of this public call for evidence brings us closer to ending this deeply harmful trend and better protecting victims.
“And it is another example of how this government will not stop in our efforts to bring more sexual and domestic abusers to justice.”
Here’s why the government is looking to crack down on sex for rent.
What is sex for rent?
Sex for rent is when predatory landlords exploit vulnerable people for sex instead of taking monetary payment every month.
If a landlord uses any sexual act as payment in any form – whether for discounted or free rent – it counts as sex for rent.
Is sex for rent illegal?
Sex for rent is already illegal and landlords can be prosecuted under the Sexual Offences Act if they are found to be attempting to exploit tenants.
The consultation on a new law will last for 10 weeks and will take evidence from charities and victims.
Has a landlord been jailed for sex for rent offences in the UK?
The first landlord to be convicted for sex for rent offences in England and Wales was jailed in May last year.
Christopher Cox, 53, was given a 12-month prison sentence in May 2022 after pleading guilty to a charge of controlling prostitution for gain and two charges of inciting prostitution for gain.
The landlord, from Cranleigh in Surrey, posted adverts on Craigslist looking for a “girl in need”.
Cox’s advert said he was looking for a “young girl 16-plus who is stuck at home and wants to get away or maybe you are homeless seeking a safe route out”. The price of the room for the tenant to “cook, clean, do laundry and possibly more”.
Sentencing Cox, the judge said the landlord’s behaviour was a “cynical attempt to take advantage by dangling a carrot to those who had little choice”.
The landlord was convicted following an undercover investigation carried out by ITV in 2019.
How many landlords offer sex for rent?
There have been plenty of attempts to uncover the scale of the problem with sex for rent.
A poll from YouGov on behalf of housing charity Shelter found nearly 1 in 50 women in England have been propositioned for ‘sex for rent’ in the last five years.
Meanwhile, research from Generation Rent and Mumsnet estimated that over 200,000 women could be victims of sex for rent across the UK.
Dan Wilson Craw, deputy director of Generation Rent said: “Four per cent of all respondents indicated that they had been offered free or discounted rent in return for sexual favours, with this rising to a shocking one in 10 respondents with a household income below £20,000.
“We know the vast majority of landlords abide by the law: seeking permission to enter and respecting their tenants’ privacy. However, given the unparalleled access landlords have to tenants’ personal spaces and lives, and the scale of the issue, this consultation is necessary in ensuring that everyone, especially the most vulnerable among us, has access to a safe and secure home, free from harassment and exploitation.”
Meanwhile, a study from Oxford University published in 2019 analysed 583 advertisements posted on Craigslist offering sex for rent arrangements in London and Los Angeles.
Researchers found landlords skirted around platforms’ content rules using innuendo in 81 per cent of the adverts. Landlords used language such as “favours”, “tit-for-a-tat” and “payback methods” to suggest sex for rent.
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