Stop Bullying Coalition Supports HUD, Fair Housing Rule on Harassment

This is our COMMENT ON FR–5248–P–01 Quid Pro Quo and Hostile Environment Harassment and Liability for Discriminatory Housing Practices Under the Fair Housing Act, "Standards Governing Harassment Under the Fair Housing Act (FR-5248)" Docket Number HUD-2015-0095

I write on behalf of the Stop Bullying Coalition {1} to support the proposed rule, Quid Pro Quo and Hostile Environment Harassment and Liability for Discriminatory Housing Practices Under the Fair Housing Act, "Standards Governing Harassment Under the Fair Housing Act (FR-5248)" Docket Number HUD-2015-0095; to testify to the need for action to prevent bullying/harassment in housing; and to urge a broadening of the scope of this rule with the goal of preventing all forms of bullying and harassment in housing.

The proposed rule would motivate housing providers to maintain a civil society and prevent bullying, and strengthen the impact of existing HUD rules that encourage tenant participation by helping to prevent bullying aimed against a legitimate tenants' association.

Harassment encompasses much of bullying. Bullying and harassment are significant threats to the health and wellbeing of victims and disruptions of peaceful community life; they are usually readily distinguished from ordinary disputes and quarrels.

The proposed rule might be clarified by providing a clear set of features to help identify harassment; to distinguish from inappropriate behavior caused by disease, or disputes that do not rise to the level of harassment.

Urgent need for action against bullying and harassment

Bullying and harassment deprive victims of their human {2} and civil rights.

Hostile environment harassment is all too common in privately owned, HUD subsidized housing. We see many instances of groups of residents that bully and harass other residents, often because of their disability status or other characteristic protected under the Fair Housing Act. The groups identify a person or group that they decree "does not belong here," and they seek to "get rid of them" through a campaign of bullying and harassment.

Some providers of housing—landlord and management alike—deny they have any responsibility for relations among neighbors, thus possibly provoking as well as permitting the bullying and harassment to continue. In the absence of appropriate means for conflict resolution, people may turn to bullying. Housing providers then may join the harassment, declare the victims to be unsuitable to live in the facility and even find a pretext to evict. This situation is essentially mobbing, and hostile environment harassment.

Social service agencies, local government, police and other first responders have no basis to intervene, with the manager and landlord claiming they can do as they please because of their private ownership of the property.

The proposed rule will clarify the issue of liability of all agents of the housing provider, including the landlord, and thus encourage them to intervene appropriately to stop bullying and protect victims.

We ask that the rule be applied in the broadest way to help prevent all forms of bullying, and not set the threshold for intervention so high that victims are forced out of their homes, or evicted. Since if unchecked bullying and harassment can quickly take over an institution leading to hostile environment harassment, it is important to set the threshold for intervention as low as possible.

Witness to the damage done by bullying and harassment

If I may add a personal perspective: I have lived in privately owned, HUD subsidized housing for nearly eight years. All efforts to stop bullying and mobbing have failed, and residents have been living in a toxic environment with no relief. Despite some positive developments, the management agent of the housing provider (a major national landlord of subsidized housing) continues to assert they have no responsibility to intervene in disputes among residents. As a result, there is no normal social life. One resident commented, "This place is depressing. Everyone sits alone in their room waiting to die."

I learned that bullying is a terrible assault on the victim, who experiences stress and the loss of a normal personal and social life. Even what may seem like a trivial form of harassment can build with repetition into a situation that severely damages health and well-being. A disabled woman, "Margaret," who stood up for the rights of other disabled people, was bullied, harassed, mobbed, unjustly evicted and made homeless.

I submit a quote from my testimony on July 14, 2015 before the Joint Committee on Housing of the Massachusetts Legislature. The testimony of several others can be found there as well. {3}

Impact of bullying

[On behalf of many victims, and] as a resident in subsidized housing for over seven years, I can confirm that bullying is a plague that creates a toxic environment, depriving us of the “peaceful enjoyment,” security, and psychological safety that we deserve in our home.

Bullying deprives us of our human and civil rights. We experience isolation, exclusion, rejection, malicious gossip, emotional abuse, and even violence. Our lives are consumed by conflict and stress, causing both emotional and physical illness. We live in fear of unfair eviction and the peril of homelessness. Bullying prevents a healthy community life; it is harmful to managers, staff, and visitors, as well as residents.

No relief is available

Today, our laws, social service agencies, and accountability systems do not adequately protect all. When we cry out, no one listens, we have no relief.

Polity and community

In the absence of a polity—an agreed set of rules, procedures, and customs for living together and resolving disputesὌbullying tends to emerge and spread like an infection spreads in the absence of public health measures.

Where bullying thrives

Bullying by an individual or a group is aggressive behavior used to gain control by inflicting psychological pain, by demeaning, shunning, and “getting rid of” targeted persons.

Institutional bullying happens when there is no recognition of bullying and no effort to stop it by management or residents.

Mobbing is a reign of terror, when landlord and management join with residents to bully victims as a means of control.

But some facilities are free of bullying, and some turn from mobbing to become bully-free. Landlord, management, and residents work together to stop bullying and build a healthy community. We can learn from their example.

The dynamics of relationships in a community or facility are more important in determining how bullying and mobbing develop and spread than personal relations or psychological factors. The experts suggest we think “bad barrel” instead of “bad apple.”

Research findings

I have documented and researched the problem of bullying in housing, have reviewed the available literature on the impact and remedies for bullying, and documented our advocacy efforts: {4}

Based on my research, the keys to preventing bullying and harassment in multifamily residential situations are

1) holding the housing provider responsible and liable;

2) assuring that the civil rights of all residents are protected, including the right to organize an independent, democratic tenants' association representing the interests of all residents;

3) assuring the availability of needed social services: to provide support for persons with medical, emotional, and other issues and disabilities, and to help people of different backgrounds to integrate within the community.

Stop Bullying Coalition advocates against bullying

I am the Coordinator of the Stop Bullying Coalition,{1} an advocacy group based in Massachusetts working with representatives of disabled persons and residents of privately owned, HUD subsidized housing in advocacy and education. The problem of bullying is widespread and acute, as we have learned from residents and professionals across the nation, and from the media. {5} In addition to numerous private citizens, we have worked closely with the Mass Alliance of HUD Tenants and the Independent Living Center of the North Shore and Cape Ann, an agency providing support and advocacy for people living with disability.

We are partnering with state elected officials, including Senator Joan Lovely and Representative Brad Hill, towards passage of legislation, including S1984, a bill that would create a legislative study commission on the subject of bullying of elderly and disabled residents in public and subsidized housing. We also endorse the goals of other bills relating to bullying, harassment, and violence currently before the legislature including H522, sponsored by Representative Paul Heroux that proposes specific remedies; and H1094, sponsored by Representative Diana DiZoglio and motivated by the murder of three residents allegedly by a disabled neighbor living with psychiatric disorders.

We strongly support the proposed rule

Therefore, on behalf of the Stop Bullying Coalition, we urge the adoption of the proposed rule.

Jerome Halberstadt

Coordinator, Stop Bullying Coalition

Jonathan Gale

Associate Coordinator, Stop Bullying Coalition


{1} Stop Bullying Coalition

{2} The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 12 states: No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

{3} Testimony on bullying

{4} Jerry Halberstadt, Stop Bullying: Creating healthy communities for the elderly and disabled, (Peabody: Togethering Press), Forthcoming, 2017. Advance review copies are available on request to the author. jerry AT

{5} Publia, compiler, Resources on bullying in multi-family housing