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Can I be safe from sexual harassment in my home?

Produced by Community Legal Aid
Created February, 2021

sexual harassment graphic from the Department of Justice

It is against the law for your “landlord” and other tenants to sexually harass you.   Your “landlord” can be:

  • The person who owns your building.
  • Someone who works for your housing agency.
  • Someone your landlord hires, like their property manager, security guards, and repair people.

Your landlord and other tenants are not allowed to:

  • Touch or grope you without your permission.
  • Expose themselves to you.
  • Ask for sexual pictures of you.
  • Show you sexual pictures or videos.
  • Make unwelcome sexual comments like:
    • Talking about sex,
    • Asking about your sex life,
    • Talking about their sex life,
    • Asking you on a date,
    • Talking about your body, or,
    • Talking about your appearance.
  • Ask or pressure you for sexual acts in exchange for things like reduced rent, repairs or to stop an eviction.
    • They do not have to ask for sexual acts in words. But the conversation you have with them, or the actions they take, make you understand what they are asking for.
  • Ask for more rent, refuse to fix bad conditions, or evict you if you say “no” to sexual advances.

Your “landlord” and other tenants may be harassing you sexually even if:

  • You say “okay,” or “yes,” to them.
  • They give you a benefit, like reduced rent, in exchange.
  • The harassment is only verbal. It does not have to be physical.
  • They only harass you once, if it was extreme.
  • You are behind in rent or your landlord wants to evict you.
  • They threaten to evict you or refuse to make repairs. They do not have to evict you or fail to make the repairs to harass you sexually.
  • They do not threaten you in words, but the conversation you have with them, or the actions they take, make you feel threatened. 

Is it sexual harassment if I went along with it?

You were harassed sexually even if you said “okay,” “yes,” or went along with unwelcome sexual requests.

How can I stop my landlord or other tenants from harassing me sexually?

Write to your landlord.

Ask your landlord to tell the person to stop harassing you. Keep a copy of your letter or email. Your landlord cannot interfere with your “quiet enjoyment” of your apartment. Your landlord must stop their employee from sexually harassing you. Your landlord must try to stop other tenants from harassing you.

Document the sexual harassment.

As soon as someone harasses you sexually, write down everything you can remember. The more information, the better. You may not remember all the details later. Your notes can be your strongest evidence if you need to defend yourself from eviction or sue your landlord.

Write down:

  • The date, time of day, and place where they harassed you.
  • The address and phone number of the people involved.
  • Everything you said.
  • Everything the other person said. Write all the details, even if they do not seem important.
  • The names and addresses of anyone who may have seen or heard it.
  • How you felt.

Keep:

  • All inappropriate texts, emails, letters, or other messages that the person sends you.
  • Copies of all the texts, emails, and letters where you asked the person to stop.
  • A screenshot of any message that might go away like in Snapchat.

Important

It is only legal to record audio in Massachusetts if everyone knows they are being recorded.

You can also

  • Ask for a transfer to a different apartment if you live in a large building or public housing.
  • Ask the court for a Harassment Prevention Order. If you get a Harassment Prevention Order, it is a crime for the person to harass you. See Harassment Prevention (258E) Orders.
  • Sue your landlord. 1See Taking Your Landlord to Court.  It may also be discrimination.
  • Use sexual harassment and discrimination as a defense or counterclaim if your landlord tries to evict you. See Legal Defenses and Counterclaims.
  • File a complaint with the Mass Commission Against Discrimination.2
  • File a complaint with the Department of Justice (DOJ). The DOJ can investigate to see if other tenants were sexually harassed.  The DOJ can sue your landlord.

If you live in public housing, you can file a complaint with the Office of Housing and Urban Development.3

Graphic by the Department of Justice.

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