Legislation to stop sex for rent exploitation will be introduced, says Tánaiste

Women’s charities call for urgent action following ‘shocking’ RTÉ Investigates programme

Legislation to address the exploitation of would-be tenants by landlords offering accommodation in exchange for sex will be introduced by Government, Tánaiste Micheál Martin has said.

He described the actions of the landlords recorded in Thursday evening’s RTÉ Investigates programme as “sordid” and said the behaviour had “no place in this country”.

“I would have thought that existing law would cover that area. And that needs to be examined,” he said.

“I know the Minister for Justice had initiated a review of existing laws in respect of this issue. Unfortunately, the person who was commissioned to do it could no longer continue, but the work will.


“We will legislate for this – just as we did when Ruhama developed a campaign in terms of the purchasers of sex. We responded to the informed, evidenced-based Ruhama submission. So we will certainly be responsive to this issue.”

In a statement, the Department of Justice said that while a number of scenarios are covered by existing legislation “if anyone is in a situation where they feel they are being threatened or harassed by a landlord, or indeed by anyone else, they should report this to An Garda Síochána and, in the case of a landlord, to the Residential Tenancies Board”.

The issue, it said, “is currently under review in the department and the Minister has been clear in her commitment to bringing forward criminal legislation, if necessary”.

On Friday, Dublin-based NGO Ruhama said Government action is urgently needed.

Reacting to the programme in which Bárbara Soares, posing as a Brazilian student in financial difficulty and urgently in need of accommodation, was asked for sex by a number of male landlords instead of rent, the organisation called for “the protection of tenants and prospective tenants from sexual exploitation by landlords who are taking advantage of people, predominantly women, in extreme financial distress”.

“This is not tolerable, but, while it is against the law to purchase sex in Ireland, we have not yet legislated against the exchange of sex for services or benefits,” it said.

Ruhama chief executive Barbara Condon said the organisation “witnesses daily the harms and impact of sexual exploitation among individuals accessing our services. Poverty is one of the main drivers of sexual exploitation, which often starts with a woman in a vulnerable situation who is at risk of being exploited by offers of money”.

She called for urgent action by the Government which had previously committed to addressing the issue as part of a review of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 only for the process to be delayed.

“Appropriate legislation is required to recognise those offering accommodation in exchange for sex as offenders, to penalise the platforms that host their advertisements, to provide legal recourse to victims of predatory landlords and to ensure that this complex issue is treated with due regard to its seriousness. We need to ensure zero tolerance for domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. Tackling sexual exploitation is key to combating and eradicating violence against women,” she said.

The National Women’s Council of Ireland said the programme, which follows work on the topic by Ann Murphy of the Irish Examiner, showed how “the housing crisis and lack of legislation specifically in this area is enabling sexual violence towards women”.

Doras, an organisation promoting refugee and migrant rights, described the programme as “shocking”.

Sinn Féin’s spokesman on housing, Eoin Ó Broin, said a legislative reaction was already overdue.

He said in the wake of Ms Murphy’s original reporting, he and others had written to Government Ministers seeking the introduction of appropriate legislation. “It is disappointing that, over a year later, the Government has not only not taken any action on this issue but blocked a Private Members’ Bill aimed at tackling this disgusting practice.

“Government must make the seeking of sex in exchange for rent a criminal offence. They must also make it an offence to seek such arrangements on social media or other platforms,” he said.

The Irish Property Owners’ Association, meanwhile, said it condemned “in the strongest possible terms the behaviour displayed” in the programme.

IPOA chair Mary Conway said “the overwhelming majority of landlords operate their properties in a professional, reputable manner and deem this behaviour to be utterly deplorable”.

“The IPOA urges prospective tenants who may encounter these unscrupulous individuals to promptly report such behaviour to An Garda Síochána.”

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is Work Correspondent at The Irish Times