All Tenants Have a Right to Be Free from Harassment and Intimidation

April 20, 2018 – Attorney General Maura Healey issued an advisory last week reminding all Commonwealth residents that tenants have the basic civil right to not be harassed or intimidated by landlords, realtors, or any other housing provider.

This was in honor of the 50th Anniversary of the passage of the Fair Housing Act, the landmark bill passed 4 days after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.  This was the first major piece of federal legislation explicitly banning discrimination in housing, and has since expanded to include:

Race, color, national origin, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, ancestry, genetic information, marital status, veteran or active military status, age, familial status (i.e., children), and source of income (i.e., Section 8 voucher).

AG Healey issued this advisory in part to also reinforce the fact that discriminating or adding extra hoops to jump through based on someone’s citizenship or immigration status is forbidden under the ban on discrimination based on national origin since “Such discrimination includes different treatment based on a person’s ancestry, ethnicity, birthplace, culture, or language. Screening current or prospective tenants for citizenship and immigration status, or treating them differently on that basis, may violate the prohibition on national origin discrimination.”

Such prohibited behavior includes:

  • Refusing to show a property or rent to someone based on their affiliation with a protected class,
  • Steering prospective tenants towards or away from particular areas or units,
  • Asking current or prospective tenants to provide different forms or amounts of identification/documentation, especially ones that relate to protected class membership,
  • Restricting access to services or applying different (especially more restrictive terms) to a member of a protected class,
  • And more.

Furthermore, the AG’s Office underscored that harassment or intimidation in housing is strictly forbidden.  These are defined as unwelcome conduct which interferes with a person’s ability to buy, rent, or enjoy housing and related services.  “Quid pro quo” harassment (where submission to a demand/request is needed to get what you want) is also forbidden.  Such examples include requesting sexual favors, threatening to call immigration authorities, coercing you to give up legal rights during eviction proceedings, threatening you if you report discriminatory practices, and retaliating against you for exercising any rights.

If you feel that a landlord, relator, mortgage broker, or other housing provider has done anything resembling the illegal actions described above, contact the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office to file a formal Civil Rights Complaint at 617-963-2917.

If you’re looking to hold the housing provider directly accountable, reach out to the Boston Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral Service at 617-742-0625, or fill out our online form here.  We have a large network of experienced attorneys who want to protect your right to live in and enjoy the Greater Boston area.