This landlord belonged to the same Worcester landlord group that I belonged to at the time. That is how this came to my attention.
Here is the news release by the Attorney General:
“Worcester Landlord Settles Allegations of Failing to Address Known Racial Discrimination
WORCESTER – A Worcester landlord has agreed to settle claims that he failed to respond to an African American tenant family’s claim of racial discrimination, Attorney General Martha Coakley’s Office announced today.
The settlement agreement, filed in Suffolk Superior Court today, alleges that Emile Akpaki violated state anti-discrimination laws by failing to take action against other tenants in the same building who allegedly threatened, harassed and made racially discriminatory statements toward the family.
According to the family’s complaint to the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD), their upstairs neighbors repeatedly used racial slurs towards them and threatened them with physical assault. The complaint alleged that the family reported these behaviors to Akpaki on several occasions, but Akpaki did nothing to prevent the behavior from continuing. Under Massachusetts law, it is illegal to aid, abet, incite, compel or coerce the doing of any of the acts forbidden by the Massachusetts Antidiscrimination Statute. Landlords in Massachusetts have an obligation to ensure that tenants live in housing free from acts of discriminatory conduct and must take action to address discriminatory acts caused by other tenants.
In compliance with the settlement, Akpaki has already completed training on federal and Massachusetts fair housing law through MCAD. The other terms of the settlement require that Akpaki include “Equal Housing Opportunity” notifications in any rental advertisements for the next three years; notify the Attorney General’s Civil Rights Division of any discrimination complaints made against him in the next three years; keep records for the next three years of all advertisements placed and all applications from prospective tenants; and pay $2,000 to the family, with an additional $2,500 payment to the Commonwealth suspended providing Akpaki continues to comply with the terms of the settlement.
This matter is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Kiernan Joliat of Attorney General Coakley’s Central Massachusetts Regional Office.”
There was also an article in the Worcester Telegram that described in great detail how this landlord was abused by the system in MA. According to the article the Tenant was late with the rent. When the Landlord asked why the rent is late, the tenant said “You want your rent? I am a (Real Estate) Broker. I will make your life miserable”. After living in the apartment for over 2 years without any issues, the Tenant began making bogus complaints to the Health Board alleging “mice in the apartment”, “faulty” dryer vent and a “hazardous” waste disposal. Then when those complaints were determined unfounded, they turned to claiming that they were racially discriminated by other tenants in the building by using offensive and derogatory “ethnic” slurs against them and throwing eggs at their car. However when the Landlord immediately went to check on the “egg” incident there was no evidence of it. When he confronted the other tenants of calling the first tenants ethnic slurs, they not only denied it but said that it is the complaining tenants that are actually the aggressors and that they are harassing them. The Landlord told the top floor tenants if they were harassing the lower floor to stop and if they don’t he would proceed with an eviction. When several days later the Landlord received a call from the tenants being in conflict again, he called the Police and sent them there.
So…the tenants who were late with the rent filed a Complaint against the Landlord with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination for $10,000 claiming that the landlord “did nothing” to prevent the alleged harassment by their upstairs neighbors on a couple of occasions and therefore he violated the state anti-discrimination laws.
First of all, there is nothing in the federal or state law that has the requirement that when two tenants are using slurs the landlord must do something. To quote from the Press Release by the Attorney General: “Landlords in Massachusetts have an obligation to ensure that tenants live in housing free from acts of discriminatory conduct and must take action to address discriminatory acts caused by other tenants.” THERE IS NO SUCH LAW IN MA. There is the concept of hostile work environment in employment law but there isn’t a similar concept in housing law. We are only responsible for our actions and the actions of our agents not for the criminal or civil wrongdoings of our tenants. That is a very dangerous slope that the AGO and MCAD are taking us down on and we should tell them to stop improvising.
That being said this landlord DID the right thing and he did all that he can do – he told the tenant to stop yelling obscenities and called the police. He could have written a letter but that doesn’t change much. The law in MA prevents him from going straight to an eviction just on the allegations that one tenant made against another because there is such a thing called due process rights. The top floor Tenant denied liability when the landlord confronted them. We are not baby-sitters, cops or judges. We are NOT allowed to take evidence and come to a verdict of guilt and so if we try to evict we would lose the eviction suit the same way we would lose if one tenant accused another of being a drug dealer and we tried to evict while while the other tenant denied it to us.
I looked at all appellate and SJC court decisions and there is no obligation that landlords have to address discriminatory acts done by other tenants. They are not our agents at all.
Some people reading this might say: “Gee, there must be more to the story.” Considering that similarly absurd things have actually happened TO ME chances are that there is not more to the story. It is just a day in the life of a Landlord in MA. The only reason we know about it is because the Landlord did the right thing and took it to the Media.