Grey, overcast skies with drizzle did not dampen the welcome that residents of Apple Village in Beverly gave to Senator Joan B. Lovely and Michael Kane, Executive Director of the Mass Alliance of HUD Tenants on Saturday, June 24. The Apple Village Tenants Association hosted a cookout for everyone with the hope of welcoming all and overcoming differences. The event included a "meet and greet" with Senator Lovely and Michael Kane when they spoke about bullying and legislation intended to prevent bullying.
The audience included members of the recently formed Apple Village Tenants Association and the Apple Village Association, Inc., a non-profit founded in 2019. Most of those present live in two high-rise apartment buildings for the elderly and disabled, while several people from the family housing also attended.
When the time came for Lovely and Kane to take questions about the legislation, tenants instead spoke about the tensions and alleged bullying among tenants and between the two associations.
This was the first event to which everyone had been invited, and there was a backlog of gossip, hurt feelings, and unresolved conflict. What might have been the beginning of a conversation that might eventually lead to a resolution was instead a demonstration of the problems.
There are conflicts between members of the two associations, possibly reflecting competition for recognition, influence, power, and control between the associations. Apple Village is subsidized by HUD and the regulations allow for more than one tenant association.
One of the associations, the Apple Village Association, Inc., trusts and likes the manager and landlord. The other, the Apple Village Tenants Association, mistrusts and is in conflict with the manager, and one of their leaders, Donna Lee has been served with a notice of eviction.
Landlords have the legal responsibility to prevent harassment of tenants. Since tenants are accusing each other of bullying, and since there is significant tension between two groups of tenants, Apple Village management should be involved in a constructive effort to calm the situation. Effective management, supported by the landlord, can eliminate bullying. The landlord has met with both tenant groups.
Everyone deserves to feel safe and secure in their home,” said Senator Joan B. Lovely (D-Salem). “I'm thankful for the opportunity to meet with members of the Apple Village tenants associations and HUD Alliance of Tenants to hear their concerns and discuss S.887 and H.3868. S.887 would develop regulations and provide resources to better equip tenants, managers and owners with tools for protection from bullying in public housing. H.3868, would similarly prevent bullying by creating the Office of the Tenant Advocate within the Attorney General’s Office. I will continue to be a voice for our most vulnerable residents on Beacon Hill.”
Democracy flourishes when there is a dynamic, personal relationship between the people and their elected representatives. Senator Lovely is familiar with the residents of Apple Village, and she spent time chatting with and listening to their ideas. Michael Kane has been a community organizer and advocate for tenants in subsidized housing for some 40 years, and at Apple Village he observed, listened, and provided information on the HUD regulations.
Testimony by two tenants
Michael Kane and two committee members of the Apple Village Tenants Association, Donna Lee and Rebecca Arnott, testified on Beacon Hill in favor of S778 before the Joint Committee on Housing on June 26, 2023. (See the video at about 1:00 into the recording.)
Donna Lee said: “I am 73 years old and a committee member of the Apple Village Tenants Association. I have been taunted, harassed, emotionally abused and continuously bullied for the last two years for filing a complaint. It has taken a toll on me, mentally and physically. The property manager takes enjoyment from taking away our rights and stressing out the residents, especially the senior citizens. Example: He told us we could not watch TV and removed it from our community room. Then he locked us out for over a year until we fought by creating an association and working to get it reopened. Total stress, we had nowhere to go.
He has sent me a notice to quit, stating that I violated my lease by entering a resident’s apartment and violating her privacy and quiet enjoyment.
I was asked by her family to check her well-being. Maintenance let me in with the permission of her family. We got there just in time to save her life.
He makes a frivolous call to the police about me. On the last call he told them I was evicted, but I was not. They tried to remove me from my home until they investigated with the help of Michael Kane. It was further to find out he was lying.
He has created a huge division between the tenants here. I have been bullied by them also for the last two years.
It is so important to have this bill passed, it will be so helpful for the tenants here, especially seniors, who he stresses out with threats of eviction. I have just received an eviction notice.
Rebecca Arnott, a committee member of the Apple Village Tenants Association testified.
We have been harassed and bullied by our property manager and by many tenants. The property manager locked us out of our library and our village store and he actually sold everything that was in the village store without letting any of us know, except for a few of his favorite tenants….I personally was bullied by the property manager by receiving a notice of a lease violation for bullying another tenant. She lied about the bullying and I got several residents that were there that day to verify that I did not bully her. He never investigated her complaint. I demanded an apology from him and I finally got one after she admitted that she had lied...We need this bill to protect our rights without retaliation.
How to assure a peaceful home?
Can the legislation proposed by Senator Lovely and others create better ways for tenants to get along with each other? Can the legislation provide resources and guidance such as best practices to landlords? Can the legislation provide protection for the rights of tenants even when the landlord does not?
We need to provide guidance and support to landlords and their agents to help them apply best practices in their administration of housing developments.
For those landlords seeking to provide a secure, safe, and even a joyful home, the legislation S887/H1329 “An Act to Prevent and respond to bullying of elderly and disabled residents” proposed by Senator Joan B. Lovely and Representative Kevin G. Honan, has the potential to guide best practices and the means to achieve those goals. Michael Kane and all who served on the Commission on Bullying (the commission to study ways to prevent bullying of tenants in public and subsidized multi-family) in 2017 developed the framework for this important bill.
Tenants also seek the oversight and accountability needed to assure their rights. Currently before the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, a bill proposed by Senator Lovely and Representative Sally Kerans, H3868, is “An Act to create the office of the tenant advocate in the Office of the Attorney General.” The tenant advocate will provide essential accountability and oversight. This bill is based on research undertaken by the Commission on Bullying and incorporates concepts from existing Federal and state laws and regulations to enable effective protection for the rights of tenants. At the heart of the bill is the need for protection against hostile environment harassment.
Some tenants of Apple Village allege they are the targets of harassment, abuse, bullying, and deliberate actions to create stress. Members of each of the tenant associations accuse the other of bullying. Some blame the manager. The problems are pervasive. The situation may qualify as hostile environment harassment.
“Hostile environment harassment,” [is] unwelcome conduct creating a situation that makes it difficult or impossible for victims to have the peaceful enjoyment of their residency. Hostile environment harassment exists when a person was subjected to unwelcome spoken, written or physical conduct and the conduct was sufficiently severe or pervasive as to interfere with or deprive the victim of their right to use and enjoy the housing. A determination of whether this standard has been met is to be based on the totality of the circumstances. Whether a hostile environment harassment violation has occurred is a fact-specific inquiry. Hostile environment harassment shall include, but not be limited to, bullying or mobbing.— H3868 An Act to create the office of the tenant advocate in the Office of the Attorney General.
The tenant advocate would have the authority to investigate and intervene to protect the rights of tenants, filling a significant gap in effective protections.
Commission on Bullying: RESOLVE CREATING A COMMISSION TO STUDY WAYS TO PREVENT BULLYING OF TENANTS IN PUBLIC AND SUBSIDIZED MULTI-FAMILY HOUSING
Harper, Janice, PhD, “Bullying and Mobbing in Group Settings.” http://stopbullyingcoalition.org/index.php/harper-mobbing
“Office of the Attorney General Advisory: The failure of management and the landlord to assure peaceful enjoyment for all tenants is unlawful, according to the Attorney General of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.” tinyurl.com/2e4fspb4
Quid Pro Quo and Hostile Environment Harassment and Liability for Discriminatory Housing Practices Under the Fair Housing Act, Final Rule published in the Federal Register on September 14, 2016, CFR Citation: 24 CFR 100; “A Rule by the Housing and Urban Development Department” tinyurl.com/y4vkvhs9
A cookout at Apple Village that was intended to bring people together for reconciliation instead revealed discord, stress, and pain.
Two opposed groups of tenants accuse each other of bullying and many interpret everything from a perspective of mistrust, fear, anger, and expectation of malice. One of the groups is trying to stop the conflict and invited all residents to a cookout. Neighbors do not trust neighbors and some do not trust the management. The situation demonstrates hostile environment harassment.
“Hostile environment harassment” is unwelcome conduct creating a situation that makes it difficult or impossible for victims to have the peaceful enjoyment of their residency. Hostile environment harassment severely impacts the whole community as well as individual targets. Under current laws and regulations, the landlord is responsible for assuring the right of all tenants to live in peace and to prevent harassment.
We see similar situations in many public and subsidized housing communities. Is this so very different from the strife that infects our politics and public discourse, where each accuses "the other" of bad faith, people live in different realities with different facts, and the fabric of community has frayed?
Only if we understand the dynamics of a social system that is harmful to all involved, can we apply an effective remedy. Hostile environment harassment affects the whole community and is a systemic problem.
We need ways for people to resolve differences without resorting to aggression—physical, emotional, bullying, or mobbing. We need remedies at the level of policy and legislation: first to stop hostile environment harassment, and then to build positive relations.
We need an independent resource or agency to investigate and intervene as necessary to help restore a peaceful community.
It is not my role to adjudicate between the landlord/manager and the tenants or between the two groups of residents. I seek to demonstrate the need for change, including through legislation. Senator Joan Lovely and Representatives Sally Kerans and Kevin Honan have presented bills that together may enable people to live in peace.
Please contact your state legislators and encourage them to pass those bills: S887/H1329 & H3868—JH
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