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Landlords are soliciting sex in exchange for rent, advocates say

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Some landlords are taking advantage of the coronavirus outbreak, soliciting sexual favors in lieu of rent payments from economically vulnerable tenants, according to advocates.

Khara Jabola-Carolus, executive director of the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women, said her office has received more reports of landlords sexually harassing their tenants in the last two weeks than it had in the two years since she started working there, including cases of landlords offering to move in with tenants and sending sexually explicit photos to them after they communicated concerns about paying April rent.

While the number of cases wasn’t necessarily astronomical — the commission received 10 reports about nine landlords — Jabola-Carolus said they were especially notable given such cases go “vastly underreported.”

“Landlord coercion has always been a reality, but we’ve never seen anything like this,” Jabola-Carolus said. “The coronavirus creates the perfect conditions for landlords who want to do this because not only are people being instructed to stay home, but the virus has added to the economic stress with people losing their jobs, especially in Hawaii, which is driven by tourism.”

Around 5 million more people filed first-time unemployment claims last week, bringing the total of unemployed Americans to nearly 22 million. While some states have enacted eviction and rent moratoriums, experts caution that these policies may not be enough to keep low- and middle- income renters in their homes. Only 69 percent of apartment tenants had paid their monthly rent by April 5, down from 81 percent the previous month, according to the National Multifamily Housing Council.

Advocates like Renee Williams, a senior staff attorney at the National Housing Law Project, suspect that as tenants continue to struggle economically, there will be heightened reports of sexual harassment enacted by landlords in the upcoming months.

“Landlords have all the leverage in the landlord-tenant relationship and in these types of situations, they especially prey on women who are vulnerable, who are housing insecure, have bad credit or who don’t have anywhere to go,” Williams said. “We’ve already seen that the pandemic is exacerbating a lot of systemic issues and sexual harassment targeted at tenants by landlords is likely to be one of these issues.”

Tenants have recourse

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to uproot daily life, there may be added confusion about where tenants who may be experiencing such harassment can go with their claims, but advocates say tenants have recourse.

“Under the federal Fair Housing Act, sexual harassment by landlords is illegal,” Sandra Park, senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberty Union’s Women’s Rights Project, said. “Many states also have laws that ban sexual harassment and discrimination.”

Tenants experiencing harassment can file a report with the Justice Department, which oversees an initiative to curtail sexual harassment in housing and has filed several lawsuits against landlords in recent years.

“DOJ is aware of these allegations and is working through its Civil Rights Division to investigate and bring to justice those landlords and other housing providers who engage in sexual harassment of tenants,” a spokesperson for the DOJ wrote in an emailed statement.

Park also suggested that tenants should seek the help of local legal and social services, including human rights commissions.

“Many courts are closed right now, but getting involved with these organizations and having a lawyer from them call landlords could put landlords on notice that their behavior is unacceptable,” Park said.

Yet Park and other advocates acknowledge that women who are most vulnerable — particularly women of color and immigrant and undocumented women — will not feel comfortable submitting a report or pursuing action against their landlords and that many times when they do so, they are often dismissed.

“I am do not think most of the women who submitted reports will go on to pursue action because they are so vulnerable,” Jabola-Carolus said.

This is why she created a guide for those whose landlords may be pressuring them for a sexual arrangement.

“We want landlords to know we’re watching them and that women who are dealing with this are not alone,” Jabola-Carolus said. “It’s really women who are holding every community right now. We’re the majority of health care, elder care and child care workers and coronavirus is highlighting the silence of oppression of women in the U.S. I could not even envision a more gendered crisis.”

Stay-at-home orders can exacerbate harassment

Compared to sexual harassment in the workplace, sexual harassment in housing has received much less attention, according to Park, whose first case with the ACLU was on behalf of an Alabama woman whose real estate manager tried to repeatedly coerce her into having sex with him and attempted to raise her rent when she refused. Though limited, the research on sexual harassment in housing suggests how prevalent the issue extends. According to a 2018 pilot study conducted by Rigel Oliveri of the University of Missouri’s School of Law, 10 percent of low-income women in Columbia, Missouri, had experienced significant sexual harassment by landlords.

While there are federal and state laws prohibiting sexual harassment in housing, many advocates call upon housing providers and public housing authorities that do not yet have these policies to institute them.

Isa Woldeguiorguis, executive director of the Center for Hope and Healing, also urges people to not discount the power of checking in on neighbors during this time, as staying at home not only can exacerbate sexual harassment, but other forms of violence and abuse.

“Reach out in whatever ways you can. We may not physically be able to be there, but we can call or walk by their homes,” Woldeguiorguis said. “Survivors need us not to forget.”

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The case of the ugly-credit customer

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Thea Dudley

Dear Thea,

I recently had a customer apply for credit, and their commercial credit report was UGLY. They owe everyone, and they’re past due 90+ days. They have a few big orders pending with us and I feel they have been shut off everywhere else, which is why they are pushing so hard to get our orders shipped. I called the president of the company and told him we were opening his account COD so the orders pending would need to be paid prior to shipping them out. He blew up. He said he didn’t care about the information on the DNB report and it did not relate to them. Then he screamed at me, asking if we were going to send the materials. I am not interested in acquiring another slow paying account, so I need your thoughts.

Signed, Miffed in Michigan

Dear Miffed,

Control freaks, abusers of credit, and manipulators of people don’t ever question themselves. They never ask themselves if the problem is actually them, and they always say the problem is someone else. Such is the life of the slow-paying/no-paying account.

Yes, Mr. Crappy Credit Report, it is completely everyone else’s fault that your credit payment history looks like a piece of Swiss cheese: full of holes and slightly smelly. In fact, the Secret Society of Credit Managers got together last week and selected your company as THE ONE we were going to target for the month to make your professional life a nightmare. It has nothing to do with your inability to pay your invoices in a timely fashion. You, as always, are an innocent my dear customer.

Let’s be real here: customers with negative or poor credit history ALWAYS know they have bad credit, but they always posture like it is brand new information, heard for the very first time. What? My credit is bad? No, who is reporting me that way? I want names, numbers, I dispute it. This is total BS! The list of objections goes on and on. One thing they do know, it is wrong, and you need to give them credit RIGHT NOW or they will take their business elsewhere (oh, the horror.)

Blowhards and bullies shout over the top of you and push their agenda because that’s what worked for them in the past. Their theory is “if you say it loud enough and angry enough with enough threats and forcefulness, it becomes true and others back down.”

Well, I like to throw caution to the wind and pet that kitty backwards. If you are going to come at me bro, don’t come empty-handed. You’re not the first guy to lose his stuffing at me. So, your credit report is junk. Ok, no problem. I will email you a copy and you can address it directly with the commercial credit bureau I pulled it from. Once you two have kissed and made up, I will pull a new one and if it is good, then welcome to the family!

In absence of that, let’s take a look at the trade references you listed on your credit application. I will personally call each and every one of them. Once I have made contact and have the information back, we can reevaluate. Just so we are on the same page, trade references are who you currently purchase like materials from. I do not want anyone you hire (so no sub-contractors, no contractors, no homeowners), no big box, no gas and sip, no personal testimonials.

How about some financials? I will take those. Show me what you have under the hood. Since this is a family publication, I cannot print what some of the reactions to those requests have been but most of you have pretty good imaginations and can fill in those blanks.

If someone truly believes their credit report is inaccurate, they have a normal conversation about it, in a normal tone. In this case the old adage, “the louder they are, the harder they fall” applies, so take heed.

With more than 30 years of credit management experience in the LBM industry, Thea Dudley consults with companies on a wide range of credit and financial management issues. Contact Thea at theadudley@charter.net.

 

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Credit mistakes to avoid – It’s Your Money

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Small credit mistakes, like paying off your credit card a few days late, aren’t a big deal.

You pay a small penalty or a bit of interest and carry on as before. A slip up like that won’t come back to haunt you the next time you apply for a mortgage.

Other mistakes though can have a significant impact, even if they seem relatively minor at the time. They can stay on your credit record for years and potentially cause you to not qualify for a mortgage or loan or have to pay a higher interest rate.

Here’s a list of five credit mistakes that you definitely want to avoid:

Ignoring your financial details.

Not being aware of what interest rates you are paying or when a temporary or “teaser” rate ends can be very costly. Carrying debt on certain accounts harms your credit score far more (credit cards) than others (lines of credit).

You need to have a clear picture of all debts that you owe, how much they are costing you and review regularly to make improvements if necessary. 

Draining retirement funds to avoid bankruptcy.

While nobody wants to claim bankruptcy, sometimes it’s the right choice. RRSPs are generally exempt from bankruptcy proceedings (except for amounts deposited in the last 12 months in some provinces) and can be left there to help you rebuild on the other side of the bankruptcy proceedings.  

Not checking your credit.

You can check your credit report easily and for free in Canada through Equifax and TransUnion. Checking regularly (at least once per year if not twice) will allow you to become aware of any credit issues or fraud sooner so that they can be dealt with.

Having something unexpected appear on a credit report is common for Canadians and it’s up to you to watch for them.

Co-Signing a loan.

While this might make sense on a rare occasion, it should be avoided most of the time and only be considered with extreme caution.

I realize that it can be hard for young people to buy their first home these days but if they can’t qualify on their own, they likely shouldn’t be going ahead. Not only will your co-signing reduce your own borrowing capacity, if the loan isn’t repaid it can be disastrous to your own finances.  

Not carrying any credit at all.

With all the pitfalls of having access to credit, it is still a necessary evil for most people. If you elect to go without a credit card or any other credit vehicle, you won’t build up a credit score which means you won’t be able to qualify for a loan when you need one.

And don’t cancel your first credit card either. Longevity in your credit history is equally important! 

Having bad credit isn’t permanent and your score can be improved over time. But like many things in life, doing so takes a little bit of time and effort. But it’s not that hard.

Just put a semi-annual reminder in your calendar to sit down and review your credit and request a report.

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UAE businesses do have options other than banks

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Alternative financing is trying to catch wider attention… and this time the providers stand a good chance of doing so.
Image Credit: Ador T. Bustamante/Gulf News

Ask most people where they would go for a loan, and the answer is usually their bank. But what about when the banks can’t – or won’t – lend?

The commercial disruption and consequent financial ramifications, first of the financial crisis and now more dramatically COVID-19, have challenged the banks’ primacy in the lending arena. As a direct result of the financial crisis in 2008, regulators sought to build up bank liquidity and limit leverage.

Basel III was introduced which required banks to maintain appropriate leverage ratios, sufficient levels of reserve capital and introduce countercyclical measures. These requirements are assessed on an annual basis and revised to minimise the risk of system-wide shocks and prevent future economic collapses.

What did this mean for borrowers? Loans were more difficult to secure, requirements on collateral became stricter and other terms and conditions became more restrictive.

Hit from all sides

In 2020, Basel III ratios for banks were revised upwards again (meaning more capital was required against risk-weighted assets), COVID-19 was announced a pandemic by the WHO and global financial markets crashed. Consequently, banks have been driven into preservation mode as they wrestle with lower profits due to the introduction of interest rate cuts and higher cost of risk with a deterioration in asset quality.

In addition, most commercial banks across the Gulf have rationalized their balance-sheets to focus on assets deemed safer based on the sector, business model and the maturity stage. As such, there has been an increase in lending to government/government-related entities and large-cap corporates, thus reinforcing the challenge of accessing finance from banks for many small, medium and mid-cap businesses.

Developers left with little

The real estate sector is a prime example of where we are seeing a significant liquidity issue, as banks shy away from financing any except government-backed assets. Developers are unable to unlock funds as usual from their existing projects to recycle into new ones.

The bond way

The second port of call is usually debt capital markets, i.e. issuance of bonds or sukuks which can be listed and/or traded over the counter. There are many advantages for companies to raise a bond, including more flexible terms and non-amortising structures. That said, it is a long process, with an operating history of three years preferred. Ratings are required and financial information about the company must be disclosed publicly.

Specialist advisors and investment banks assist companies in issuing bonds, but it is a long process and is subject to investor demand at the time of issuance.

Alternate ways

So where do businesses turn now? Step forward alternative finance. Simply put, it enables businesses to access quick, efficient, and flexible private debt from a source outside the traditional banking and capital market structures.

What is stopping businesses from taking advantage of such attractions? Misperceptions remain, with many business owners mistakenly viewing it as more expensive. And many view it as riskier and only for ‘bad credit’.

In fact, alternative finance providers are typically well-established financial institutions with the ability to quickly assess an opportunity, consider individual requirements of borrowers, and provide a bespoke solution that gives borrowers the flexibility they need while still protecting the interests of the lender.

These advantages enable businesses to access capital often far more quickly than via traditional methods and without some of the restrictive requirements, including tailored covenants and non-amortizing structures.

A deal which Shuaa completed in Dubai’s hospitality sector is a case in point. With a project already 85 per cent complete, the developer needed further funding – which the senior lender was unwilling to provide.

Getting a project to ready status

Due to leverage covenants, the developer was unable to raise debt from other sources, and because the asset was under construction the developer was unable to raise equity at an acceptable valuation. Shuaa was able to fulfil the complex requirements of the transaction through a preferred equity instrument, with a minimum return payable at maturity, thus allowing the project to complete without any impact on their existing bank facilities and no dilution for shareholders.

The hotel commenced operations shortly after our investment, and the owners were able to refinance the entire capital structure, repaid the existing debt, redeemed the preferred equity and released some cash to the shareholders.

So, businesses can find that alternative finance in fact represents an ideal funding instrument: quick and more flexible than bank debt without the complications of issuing a bond. Meanwhile, for investors, it offers the potential to participate in interesting business opportunities at a lower point on the risk curve than equity with attractive returns.

All of which makes the “alternative” a viable and appealing option. As the youngest and now third largest asset class in the private capital universe, global private debt assets under management (AUM) have consistently grown and expected to reach 41 trillion by 2021. The alternative is playing an increasingly important role on the global stage to cater to an ever changing environment.

The expectation is that the trend will continue, particularly in markets such as the GCC.

– Natasha Hannoun is Head of Investment Solutions at Shuaa Capital.

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