An amendment is urgently required to the Renters’ Reform Bill to prosecute “sex for rent” landlords and reassure victims that they will not be accused of prostitution, according to Liberal Democrat MP Wera Hobhouse.
A small minority of rogue landlords are illegally offering free accommodation in return for sexual favours. According to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), such deals are an offence under the Sexual Offences Act 2003.
It is punishable by up to seven years in prison, and yet there are still a number of adverts offering ‘free rooms’ available online.
“These arrangements have become alarmingly common,” Webber wrote in an article for Politics Home. “For thousands of people across the country, rent has become unaffordable and the threat of homelessness all too real.”
After months of campaigning by Webber in Parliament, the government has agreed to update the Crown Prosecution Service’s guidance to include sex for rent specifically, making it crystal clear that these arrangements are illegal.
However, 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, and the MP wants that to change.
She continued: “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.”
Webber 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.
She added: “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.”