This post discussing the growing crisis of ‘sex for rent’ cases, especially since Covid-19, where rogue landlords offer free rent for sexual services. I examine the current law and whether reform is necessary
Last month, a landlord was charged for the first ever ‘sex-for-rent’ case in the UK. Christopher Cox, aged 52, was accused of requesting potential tenants to send him bikini photos and requesting they be willing to provide him with sexual services in exchange for somewhere to live, free of charge. These adverts were aimed at young, homeless or vulnerable women for rent at his home in Cranleigh, Surrey. He now faces two counts of inciting prostitution for gain and one count for controlling prostitution for gain between May 2018 and November 2018.
Sex for Rent cases were investigated in 2018 by the BBC programme Inside Out West however, there is growing concern these practices have worsened due to Covid 19, causing people to lose their jobs and homes. In January, the Daily Mail reported on this issues stating that the situation had worsened due to Covid-19 with people being made homeless and redundant. They reported on startling figures: ‘a YouGov poll commissioned by Shelter asked 1,266 private renters in England whether they had been propositioned by a landlord. A total of 0.7 per cent said they had, and Shelter says that suggests 30,000 female private renters were offered ‘sex for rent’ arrangements between March and September’. The article then goes onto to name and shame rogue landlords, who were contacted by undercover reporters, purporting to be young women who had recently lost their job.
Prior to 2018, ‘Sex for Rent’ cases were not covered by law. However, the Crown Prosecution Service issued revised guidance on ‘prostitution and exploitation of prostitution offences’ to expand to this area.
The guidance suggests:
- arrangements could be committing the offence of causing prostitution for gain under Section 52 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003;
- a ‘controlling’ charge may be capable of capturing established ‘sex for rent’ arrangements, even where the victim is apparently acting in accordance with his/her own free will, under Section 53 Sexual Offences Act 2003;
- these charges could be punishable by up to seven years in prison
It’s a promising sign that the CPS have made their first charge in the arena of ‘Sex for Rent’, however there is some doubt that the legislation is protective enough. Under the current legislation, victims must be legally defined as prostitutes, which adds an unnecessary heavy penalty and stigma onto victims of this crime. Furthermore, Nick Dent, criminal defence lawyer at Kingsley Napley, said he doubted there will be any successful prosecutions under the existing legislation, stating that this crime “probably does require a specific statutory offence which makes it clear that that’s what the purpose is.” Liberal Democrat MP Wera Hobhouse has campaigned for an amendment to the government’s forthcoming Renters’ Reform Bill to do exactly that: provide a statutory duty in law to prosecute landlords who exploit their tenants. I also wonder whether this could attract a high civil remedy in order to act as a deterrent and lessen the burden of proof to 51% (one the balance of probabilities).
There are arguments, however, that women are providing ‘consent’ in these arrangements and thus landlords should be left alone. However there must be a clear distinction of providing ‘free’ consent to sexual activity and submitting to sexual activity, as seen in the case of R v Kirk and Kirk  EWCA Crim 434 (a case involving a vulnerable and destitute 14 year old girl who submitted to sex in return for money to buy food). This same reasoning should without doubt be followed when economically vulnerable women are targeted for these ‘free rent’ opportunities. There is a distinct lack of equal bargaining power, when landlords specifically prey on vulnerable women, knowing they will be in financial difficulty. One shamed landlord titled their advert as searching for an ‘eager to please and eager to succeed university student or recent graduate who may have found herself without accommodation… because of the pandemic’.
In situations where an arrangement has been discussed and agreed freely between the landlord and tenant with full capacity in circumstances where there was no significant financial and/or power imbalance, a section 53 ‘controlling’ charge could be considered, as prostitution is still illegal in this country. However, it is unlikely this charge would succeed through the legal system. For anyone who finds this outcome to be unfair – I’ll also direct you to the 72,800 sex workers in the UK who still do not have legal protection for their right to earn an income through a consensual agreement. Feel free to campaign for them!
To conclude, ‘sex for rent’ cases are a worrying yet growing trend which is desperate for clear, effective legislative protection. Although the prostitution charges go some way to convict these rogue ‘landlords’, they impose an unnecessary burden on victims to be categorized as ‘prostitutes’. Societally, we should also be taking more notice of this situation including reporting any advertisements of this kind to the police to aid in more investigations. What we don’t need, are ‘amusing’ advice articles, such as below, published on the UK’s Biggest Landlord blog, which at best mocks predatory behaviour as humour and at worst condones it: https://www.propertyinvestmentproject.co.uk/blog/5-ways-to-convince-your-tenant-to-have-sex-with-you/