Government will not oppose legislation to make sex for rent criminal offence

Bill requires further consideration as to how it interacts with other legislation, says Minister

The Government has said it will not oppose legislation that would make it a criminal offence for landlords to seek sex in exchange for rent.

However, the Minister of State at the Department of Justice James Browne has said the bill requires further and careful consideration as to how it interacts with other legislation.

Social Democrats TD Cian O’Callaghan brought forward the Ban On Sex for Rent Bill 2022 which seeks to create an offence for requesting or accepting sex as a condition of providing accommodation.

It also proposes an offence for anyone, including publishers, of facilitating the requirement or acceptance of sex as a condition of accommodation.

The penalties outlined in the legislation include imprisonment for up to seven years or a fine or both and a fine of up to €50,000 for anyone involved in placing or arranging an advertisement.

Disturbing reports

Mr O'Callaghan said there had been "very disturbing reports", particularly by journalist Ann Murphy in The Irish Examiner, of some individuals attempting to exploit women fleeing from war in Ukraine.

The Dublin Bay North TD noted one report of a landlord offering accommodation in Co Clare to “a slim Ukrainian woman with an expectation of sex, demanded a photo from prospective renters before they would reveal the location of the property”.

“This is despicable behaviour from predatory landlords attempting to exploit people traumatised from fleeing war and it’s in sharp contrast to the thousands of Irish families who are opening up their homes in the spirit of generosity and welcome and support and solidarity for the people of Ukraine,” he said.

Mr O’Callaghan said what was happening “shows the depraved depths of the housing crisis”.

“No one should be subjected to these kinds of demands when they’re simply looking for somewhere safe to live and to shelter,” he said.

He added that the Minister for Justice Helen McEntee had previously confirmed there wasn't a specific criminal offence for the practice of requesting sex in lieu of rent while gardaí had informed an Oireachtas Committee that the Pulse system does not record sex for rent complaints as a specific category.

Unacceptable

Mr Browne said any behaviour by accommodation providers seeking to use their position to prey on vulnerable people was “totally unacceptable”.

“It is an appalling abuse of power by unscrupulous individuals, and it will not be tolerated by this Government,” he said.

He said the Government supported the objectives of the bill and would not be opposing it while had also sought advice from the Attorney General. Mr Browne said there were some concerns with the detail of the bill which would need to be addressed “to ensure that it is legally sound and it achieves his objectives”.

He said more clarity would be needed on what is meant by requiring sex as a condition of access to accommodation and who falls within the term of provider. Mr Browne also said consideration should be given to any implications to the proposed offences “where they occur in the context of intimate relationships, in particular where parties are cohabiting and the relationship breaks down”.

Labour TD Ivana Bacik said there needed to "a clear timeline" for the bill's introduction into law. Ms Bacik also said the practice of landlords demanding sex in lieu of rent was "appallingly relatively widespread" in Britain, with 30,000 and 40,000 women reporting it over a three-month period.

She said Ireland didn't have that level of data and it would be important to know how widespread it was.

Solidarity TD Mick Barry said people exploiting their position of power over those who have less or no power in search for shelter were "creeps".

“The situation is given an added urgency with the arrival of Ukrainian refugees into this country,” he said.

The Cork North-Central TD said the root cause of the problem was the “massive power imbalance” between “the power of the landlord on the one hand and the tenants on the other” when the State was facing its greatest housing crisis.

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times

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