Rogue landlords who target vulnerable people for sex by posting online classified adverts offering accommodation in exchange for other services, could face prosecution after the justice secretary insisted that such acts are illegal.
The disturbing deals, which were previously understood to be entirely legal, appeared on classified ad sites, such as Craigslist, which on one day earlier this year carried more than 100 such adverts.
But justice secretary David Lidington has revealed that such offers may breach the Sexual Offences Act.
A BBC investigation in April found that one advert posted by a landlord in Maidstone asked for a woman to move in and pretend to be his girlfriend, another publicised a room in London for a “naughty girl” and one in Brighton targeted younger men.
Landlords who posted the adverts were clear how the arrangement would work.
One told the BBC: “I was thinking once a week, something like that, I'm happy as long as there's sex involved.”
Another said: “You agree sort of like a couple of times a week, pop into my room sort of thing, but as far as the apartment's concerned, it's like completely as if we're flatmates. It's all the bills, the rent, free.”
After vowing to force website operators to ban “exploitative” adverts, Hove MP Peter Kyle took the case to the Ministry of Justice and was told by Lidington that “such acts/arrangements are already a criminal offence in England and Wales by virtue of the Sexual Offences Act 2003”.
Lidington said in a letter: “Taken together, these [provisions] essentially mean that an offence is committed when a person offers accommodation in return for sex, as they are inciting/causing another person to have sex with them in return for 'payment'.”
The letter suggests that police already possess the power to take action against landlords imposing such demands on tenants and states that the offence carries a prison sentence of up to seven years.
In response, Labour MP, Peter Kyle, said: “This is an incredibly significant moment, and it's going to protect vulnerable people enormously.
“Right now there are people out there advertising accommodation in return for sex. I want to see them prosecuted; I want to see them go through the courts process; I want to see them convicted, and I want to see them go to jail.”