Senator Joan Lovely and Representative Paul R Heroux have each proposed legislation to address the urgent problem of bullying of elderly and disabled residents in multifamily subsidized housing. Each bill or resolve was among the several thousand bills timely submitted for consideration in the current legislative session. We ask you to contact your legislators to advocate for either or both bills. Best time to sponsor is before January 30.
The victims of bullying cry out for relief
The problem of bullying in subsidized multifamily housing has been ongoing for years, but seems to have increased in intensity recently, and is receiving more attention. Too often, the victims of bullying have no recourse and cannot escape a continuing source of trauma. In extreme cases the victims can be forced to move or are evicted unfairly. Many legislators are familiar with this problem because of the pleas for help from their constituents.
There are three types of bullying—improper, harmful, repeated efforts to control other people
—bullying, group or social bullying, and mobbing. Bullying takes place between individuals; social bullying involves peer groups; mobbing or institutional bullying is group bullying tolerated or supported by the institution and management. Current laws and practices are not adequate to protect either staff working in, or citizens (elderly and disabled) living in, subsidized housing. Where bullying is uncontrolled, life is consumed by conflict, fear, stress and illness. People are not able to live or work in peace. No one is held accountable for the quality of life in these buildings. It is today difficult or impossible for citizens to get relief from bullying in subsidized buildings.
A choice of remedies
We now have before us two approaches to addressing the problem, and each has merit. SD442 would provide an in-depth study of the problem and identify potential remedies, while HD3228 proposes specific solutions to prevent and remedy acts of bullying.
Paul R Heroux, the representative from Attleboro, Massachusetts, submitted a bill on bullying, HD3228: An Act to Prevent and Respond to Bullying of Elderly and Disabled Residents of Public or Privately-Owned, Subsidized Multifamily Housing Developments.
HD3228 would require landlords and managers to act so as to prevent and remedy bullying in the residential environment. The bill is framed as a law that identifies prohibited actions and penalties for infractions, but it also creates a framework for training and education so as to encourage conformity with behaviors that would reduce and eliminate bullying.
Another bill, a resolve, SD442, introduced by Senator Joan Lovely, would create a legislative study commission engaging a wide range of stakeholders and be charged with Creating a Commission to Study Ways to Prevent Bullying of Tenants in Public and Subsidized Multi-Family Housing.
HD3228 would require owner/managers to work with residents to develop plans, to train and educate staff and residents, to receive and act on reports of bullying, and to discipline transgressors for infractions. Oversight would be provided by the Public Safety Division of the Commonwealth's Attorney General's Office. This office, in consultation with a number of agencies, experts, and citizens would publish model plans to guide programs.
HD3228 is in many respects modelled on the school bullying law, M.G.L. Chapter 71, Section 37O, but adapted to the residential context. The bill recognizes that everyone who lives or works in the residential setting must be engaged and responsible to prevent and remedy bullying, and makes owner/managers, staff, and others working in or visiting the premises, as well as residents, partners in a community effort addressing bullying.
A time for action
Please call or email or write to your state senator and representative right now, and tell them that you support one or both of the bills, SD442, and/or HD3228; and urge them to act as co-sponsor of either or both; and to support early action to advance the bill(s) through the legislative process.
To become a sponsor of SD442, they can contact Senator Lovely's office.
To become a sponsor of HD3228, they can contact Representative Heroux's office.
To find out the names and contact information for your senator and representative, all you need is to enter your zip code at https://malegislature.gov/People/Search
History and background on the commission:
The texts of HD3228 and SD442 follow:
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts
In the One Hundred and Eighty-Ninth General Court
SD442: Resolve Creating a Commission to Study Ways to Prevent Bullying of Tenants in Public and Subsidized Multi-Family Housing
Resolved, There is hereby established a commission to consist of 19 members, 1 of whom shall be the secretary of the executive office of health and human services, or a designee, who shall serve as chair of the commission; 1 of whom shall be the attorney general, or a designee; 1 of whom shall be the secretary of the executive office of elder affairs, or a designee; 1 of whom shall be the undersecretary of the department of housing and community development, or a designee; 1 of whom shall be the commissioner of the department of mental health, or a designee; 2 of whom shall be the chairs of the joint committee on housing, or their designees; 2 of whom shall be the chairs of the joint committee on elder affairs, or their designees; 2 of whom shall be the chairs of the joint committee on mental health and substance abuse, or their designees; 1 of whom shall be appointed by the minority leader of the house of representatives; 1 of whom shall be appointed by the minority leader of the senate; and 6 of whom shall be appointed by the governor, and shall be representatives of consumer protection advocacy organizations, such as the Massachusetts Association of Independent Living Centers, Jewish Family and Children’s Services, Massachusetts Alliance of HUD Tenants, Massachusetts Union of Public Housing Tenants, Stop Bullying Coalition, legal services organizations such as Mass Law Reform Institute and Disability Law Center, and individuals with direct experience and knowledge of the issue that can contribute to the commission.
The commission shall study the prevalence and impact of the bullying of tenants, with a focus on elderly and disabled tenants, in public and subsidized multi-family housing. This shall include, but not be limited to identifying the conditions that give rise to and cause bullying; researching and investigating successful methods for preventing bullying in other contexts, including but not limited to schools, nursing homes, assisted living, the workplace, and housing. This research shall be used to identify and develop best practices; raise public awareness; and propose public policy recommendations and legislation necessary to protect tenants from harm and preserve their rights.
The commission shall identify and invite to participate and contribute individuals with experience and knowledge of bullying in public or subsidized housing including tenants who have been victimized by bullying, managers who coordinate resident services, industry professionals and stakeholders, and individuals who have direct experience with bullying prevention. The commission shall hold public meetings in various locations throughout the Commonwealth in recognition of the difficulty some individuals may have in travelling long distances to attend commission meetings.
The commission shall submit its findings and recommendations with the clerks of the house of representatives and senate, the joint committee on housing, the joint committee on elder affairs and the joint committee on mental health and substance abuse not later than December 31, 2015.
HD3228 An Act to Prevent and Respond to Bullying of Elderly and Disabled Residents of Public or Privately-Owned, Subsidized Multifamily Housing Developments
Section (a) As used in this section the following words shall, unless the context clearly requires otherwise, have the following meaning:
“Bullying,” the repeated use by one or more residents or employees of, or visitors to, a covered residential community of a written, verbal or electronic expression or a physical act or gesture or any combination thereof, directed at a victim that: (i) causes physical or emotional harm to the victim or damage to the victim’s property; (ii) places the victim in reasonable fear of harm to himself or of damage to his property; (iii) creates a hostile environment for the victim; (iv) infringes on the rights of the victim at a covered residential community; or (v) materially and substantially disrupts the orderly operation of a covered residential community. For the purposes of this section, bullying shall include cyber-bullying, group or social bullying, and mobbing.
“Covered residential community,” a public or privately-owned, multifamily residential housing development subsidized in whole or in part by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development or the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and intended for occupancy primarily by elderly persons aged 55 or older and/or persons with disabilities.
“Cyber-bullying,” bullying through the use of technology or any electronic communication, which shall include, but shall not be limited to, any transfer of signs, signals, writing, images, sounds, data or intelligence of any nature transmitted in whole or in part by a wire, radio, electromagnetic, photo electronic or photo optical system, including, but not limited to, electronic mail, internet communications, instant messages or facsimile communications. Cyber-bullying shall also include (i) the creation of a web page or blog in which the creator assumes the identity of another person or (ii) the knowing impersonation of another person as the author of posted content or messages, if the creation or impersonation creates any of the conditions enumerated in clauses (i) to (v), inclusive, of the definition of bullying. Cyber-bullying shall also include the distribution by electronic means of a communication to more than one person or the posting of material on an electronic medium that may be accessed by one or more persons, if the distribution or posting creates any of the conditions enumerated in clauses (i) to (v), inclusive, of the definition of bullying.
“The Division,” the Public Safety Division of the Commonwealth’s Attorney General’s Office;
“Group or social bullying” is the attempt by several persons acting together to engage in bullying conduct toward one or more victims by intentional, repeated, aggressive speech or action capable of causing harm.
“Hostile environment,” a situation in which bullying causes the residential environment to be permeated with intimidation, ridicule or insult that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to interfere with a resident’s peaceful enjoyment of their tenancy or rights as a tenant.
“Mobbing” is bullying that the owner/manager allows, or that management takes part in, with the purpose of demeaning the victim and excluding them from the social life, quiet enjoyment of occupancy, or occupancy status in a covered residential community .
“Owner/managers,” the owner of a covered residential community and/or the property manager or management agent responsible for managing a covered residential community
“Plan,” a bullying prevention and intervention plan established pursuant to subsection (d).
“Perpetrator,” a person who engages in bullying or retaliation, or an owner/management company whose employees engage in, support or enable bullying, group or social bullying or mobbing.
“Residential property and grounds”, property on which a covered residential community is located or property that is owned, leased or used by an owner/manager or group of residents for an activity, function, program, instruction or training related to the operation of the residential community.
“Victim,” a person against whom bullying, group or social bullying, mobbing, or retaliation has been perpetrated.
(b) Bullying shall be prohibited: (i) on residential property and grounds, at a owner/manager or resident sponsored activity, function or program whether on or off residential grounds or through the use of technology or an electronic device owned, leased or used by an owner/manager (ii) at a location, activity, function or program that is not located within the covered residential community, or through the use of technology or an electronic device that is not owned, leased or used an owner/manager, if the bullying creates a hostile environment in a covered residential community for the victim, infringes on the rights of the victim at a covered residential community or materially and substantially disrupts the orderly operation of a covered residential community. Nothing contained herein shall require an owner/manager to staff any non-residence related activities, functions, or programs.
Retaliation against a person who reports bullying, provides information during an investigation of bullying, or witnesses or has reliable information about bullying shall be prohibited.
(c) Each owner/manager of a covered residential community shall provide appropriate instruction on bullying prevention to all employees and residents of a covered residential community. The curriculum shall be evidence-based.
(d) Each covered residential community shall develop, adhere to and update a plan to address bullying prevention and intervention in consultation with residents, any legitimate residents’ association as defined by 24 CFR Part 245, resident support organizations, owner/manager service employees, on-site management staff, professional support personnel, community representatives, local law enforcement agencies, and Division staff. The consultation shall include, but not be limited to, notice and a public comment period. The plan shall be updated at least biennially.
Each plan shall include, but not be limited to: (i) descriptions of and statements prohibiting bullying, group or social bullying, mobbing, cyber-bullying and retaliation; (ii) clear procedures for residents, owner/manager employees, visitors, relatives, partners, guardians and others to report bullying or retaliation; (iii) a provision that reports of bullying or retaliation may be made anonymously; provided, however, that no disciplinary action shall be taken against a resident or owner/manager employee solely on the basis of an anonymous report; (iv) clear procedures for promptly responding to and investigating reports of bullying or retaliation; (v) the range of disciplinary actions that may be taken against a perpetrator for bullying or retaliation; provided, however, that the disciplinary actions shall balance the need for accountability with the need to teach appropriate behavior; (vi) clear procedures for restoring a sense of safety for a victim and assessing that victim’s needs for protection; (vii) strategies for protecting from bullying or retaliation a person who reports bullying, provides information during an investigation of bullying or witnesses or has reliable information about an act of bullying; (viii) procedures consistent with state and federal law for promptly notifying the relatives, partners or guardians of a victim and a perpetrator, if appropriate; provided, further, that the relatives, partners and guardians of a victim shall also be notified of the action taken to prevent any further acts of bullying or retaliation, if appropriate; and provided, further, that the procedures shall provide for immediate notification pursuant to regulations promulgated under this subsection by the owner/manager the Division or person who holds a comparable role to the local law enforcement agency when criminal charges may be pursued against the perpetrator; (ix) a provision that a person who knowingly makes a false accusation of bullying or retaliation shall be subject to disciplinary action; and (x) a strategy for providing counseling or referral to appropriate services for perpetrators and victims and for appropriate family members of said residents. The plan shall afford all residents the same protection regardless of their status under the law.
An owner/manager may establish separate discrimination or harassment policies that include categories of residents. Nothing in this section shall prevent an owner/manager from remediating any discrimination or harassment based on a person’s membership in a legally protected category under local, state or federal law.
The plan for a covered residential community shall include a provision for ongoing professional development to build the skills of all employees, including, but not limited to, on-site managers, social service or resident service coordinators, maintenance and office clerical staff, to prevent, identify and respond to bullying. The content of such professional development shall include, but not be limited to: (i) appropriate strategies to prevent bullying incidents; (ii) appropriate strategies for immediate, effective interventions to stop bullying incidents; (iii) information regarding the complex interaction and power differential that can take place between and among a perpetrator, victim and witnesses to the bullying; (iv) research findings on bullying, including information about specific categories of residents who have been shown to be particularly at risk for bullying in the environment or covered residential communities; (v) information on the incidence and nature of cyber-bullying; and (vi) internet safety issues as they relate to cyber-bullying. The Division shall identify and offer information on alternative methods for fulfilling the professional development requirements of this section, at least 1 of which shall be available at no cost to owners/managers of covered residential communities.
The plan shall include provisions for informing relatives, partners and guardians about the bullying prevention curriculum of the covered residential community and shall include, but not be limited to: (i) how relatives, partners and guardians can reinforce the curriculum and support the owner/manager or Division plan; (ii) the dynamics of bullying; and (iii) online safety and cyber-bullying.
The Division shall promulgate rules and regulations on the requirements related to an owner/agent’s duties under clause (viii) of the second paragraph of this subsection A. .
(e)(1) Each owner/manager shall provide to residents, their partners, relatives and guardians, in appropriate terms and in the languages which are most prevalent among the residents, parents, children, partners or guardians, annual written notice of the relevant resident-related sections of the plan.
(2) Each owner/manager shall provide to all employees of a covered residential community annual written notice of the plan. The employees at each covered residential community shall be trained annually on the plan. Relevant sections of the plan relating to the duties of employees shall be included in an owner/agent employee handbook.
(3) The plan shall be posted on the website of each owner/manager of a covered residential community.
(f) Each owner/manager shall be responsible for the implementation and oversight of the plan at his or her covered residential community.
(g) Any employee of a covered residential community, including on-site management staff, social service or resident service coordinator, maintenance or clerical staff, shall immediately report any instance of bullying or retaliation the staff member has witnessed or become aware of to owner/manager official identified in the plan as responsible for receiving such reports or both. Upon receipt of such a report, the owner/manager or a designee shall promptly conduct an investigation. If the owner/manager or a designee determines that bullying or retaliation has occurred, the owner/manager or designee shall (i) notify the local law enforcement agency if the owner/manager or designee believes that criminal charges may be pursued against a perpetrator; (ii) take appropriate disciplinary action; (iii) notify the relatives, partners or guardians of a perpetrator, as appropriate; and (iv) notify the relatives, partners or guardians of the victim, as appropriate, and to the extent consistent with state and federal law, notify them of the action taken to prevent any further acts of bullying or retaliation.
(h) If an incident of bullying or retaliation involves residents from more than one covered residential communities, the owner/manager representative first informed of the bullying or retaliation shall, consistent with state and federal law, promptly notify the appropriate administrator of the other covered residential community so that both may take appropriate action. If an incident of bullying or retaliation occurs on the grounds of a covered residential community and involves a former resident or employee who is no longer involved in a covered residential community, the owner/manager informed of the bullying or retaliation shall contact law enforcement consistent with the provisions of clause (viii) of the second paragraph of subsection (d).
(i) Nothing in this section shall supersede or replace existing rights or remedies under any other general or special law, nor shall this section create a private right of action.
(j) The Division, after consultation with the department of public health, the department of mental health, the department of elder affairs, the office on disability, the department of housing and community development, MassHousing, the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association, representatives of areawide tenant organizations representing residents of covered residential communities, representatives of areawide associations of resident service coordinators and owner/managers, and experts on bullying, group or social bullying, and mobbing shall: (i) publish a model plan for owner/managers to consider when creating their plans; and (ii) compile a list of bullying prevention and intervention resources, evidence-based curricula, best practices and academic-based research that shall be made available to covered residential communities. The resources may include, but shall not be limited to, print, audio, video or digital media; subscription based online services; and on-site or technology-enabled professional development and training sessions. The Division shall biennially update the model plan and the list of the resources, curricula, best practices and research and shall post them on its website.