Guest post by Bonny. See Introduction to Bonny's story
Management of Wuthering Heights was part of the problem.
From a friend who works for the Wutherport Elder Services, I learned that the Wutherport Housing Authority is known for being capricious, for not following its rules, for building managers who make up rules as they go along and for trying to evict tenants over trivial matters and ignoring tenants who routinely violate their leases and endanger others. I've been told that WHA acts to correct problems only when threatened with a lawsuit.
I began to use the formal procedures and rights granted by HUD to put pressure on the management to address the issues. I'm very good at documenting problems. Whenever I witness a lease violation, or when maintenance does routine work on my apartment without giving me notice, I write a letter about it.
I'm contacting my state senator. She's on the Elder Affairs committee (Elder Affairs is her passion) and has a staffer who works on housing related issues. I'm writing a letter to my state representative. Unfortunately, my city council member is a friend of one of the troublemakers so I don't expect that there's going to be any help there. The Mayor was a neighbor where I used to live and does remember me, so I'm going to write him.
Management could easily take steps to address the problem of bullying at Wuthering Heights. What can they do about it? Since a major point of conflict is at the entrance, make this a more secure area. Immediate fix: install a flood light and security camera pointed at the entryway. Better fix: implement a 'No Loitering' policy with regards to the entryway and other common areas.
I also considered demanding relocation assistance from the housing authority, and would have written:
1) I am forced to relocate because of the persistent hostility of a group of residents; the inability of management to be proactive; and the feeling that many residents have is that they can pick and choose who is allowed to live in the building, and are free to harass and social-bully people they dislike.
2) I expect to have my pick of 1 BR apartments in any building owned by you
3) You will pay my moving/relocation expenses
I would love to sue them but have doubts that I can make a provable case without being labeled as paranoid.
I went to court and received a temporary restraining order against harassment by the chief bully. I copied the order to management. Before I went to court I got advice from a police officer and learned that the best I could hope for would be a temporary order because permanent orders usually are not granted at first.
I made common cause with the Wuthering Heights tenant coordinator, who began to advocate for change by management.
I began to document the problems at the building entrance, photographing the Guardians in a variety of lease violations.
Management began to put pressure on the Guardians. The chief bully began to talk about moving.
I began to breathe more freely. I am not harassed when I come and go. I feel less stressed, more relaxed, able to let things roll off my back. I accept that the landlord will only do half-measures. I am looking for a new residence. Aware of the importance of landlord policies, I am researching landlords when considering an application to a new apartment. I look for buildings that have on-site management that takes an interest in the quality of life and basic standards of behavior.
Decisions and actions that helped
I lowered my expectations. Because the culture of the building is so hostile, I decided to stay out of tenant activities. I felt it was not healthy to interact with the neighbors beyond being cordial with some of them. Since the bully group is part of the tenants’ association and tenant-sponsored activities, I decided to stay away from all tenant activities. I decided I just want to come and go without being harassed.
I report all lease violations [by the bullies that I observe in the entrance area] to the landlord and use all avenues of support to stop bullying.
I work hard to have a rich life outside my building--support groups, volunteer activities, a religious group. I try to be out of the building from noon to evening.
As a result I have become more compassionate, stronger, healthier. There is hope. I have seen that I can be assertive and tough, without having a siege mentality.
Bonny's Pearls of Wisdom
These “pearls of wisdom” are Bonny’s personal guides to survival.
CURRENT LIVING SITUATION
1. READ YOUR LEASE and all policy statements. Your lease spells out your rights and your responsibilities as a tenant.
2. FOLLOW THE RULES AS SPELLED OUT IN YOUR LEASE TO THE LETTER.
3. Keep a log book, documenting all lease violations you witness. Include the times when your landlord violates your lease (such as performing routine maintenance or an inspection in your apartment without giving you appropriate notice) as well as tenants violating their leases.
4. Always have a camera at hand. You can take pictures of other tenants in the common areas of your building—there’s no assumption of privacy. Take pictures of the lease violations. Then it’s not your word against the lease violator’s word. Consider carrying a dictation style tape recorder (or use your cell phone) and recording the bad words. [You need to check the law on photography and recording, there may be restrictions limiting your rights. For example, it may be illegal to record a conversation unless all participants permit; video recording may be different. —Jerry]
5. A favorite way management and other tenants try to get people into trouble is to claim that one is not keeping up with your house work. To the best of your ability, keep your apartment in ‘Apartment For Rent’ shape. That is:
a. Reduce visible clutter—try to keep your things reasonably organized.
b. Keep your refrigerator and stove clean.
c. Don’t leave dirty dishes in your sink.
d. Regularly take out your trash. Your lease may require that you use trash bags—if it does, follow the rules.
e. Regularly vacuum your apartment, mop the floors and clean the bathroom.
f. If you have a pet, appropriately clean up after it. Pick up after your dog, scoop the cat box daily, etc. Keep your dog on a leash and be considerate of others, avoid the chance of their tripping on the dog or leash.
g. Keep all pathways clutter free.
h. Plan on spending an hour a day doing housework. Then, things won’t get out of hand.
6. Just before your annual inspection, consider hiring a maid service to professionally clean your apartment. Don’t give management any reason to get you into trouble
7. For your annual inspection, photograph your apartment—show its condition and what the inspector saw.
8. Report ALL lease violations to your building manager. Include supporting documentation, such as photos and recordings. Be cautious and selective, otherwise people will become resentful if you act like the agent enforcing all the rules.
9. Stay secure.
a. Lock up your prescription medications. Do not share your prescription medications with other tenants, no matter how desperate they seem.
b. If you live on a lower floor, keep your shades/curtains pulled. People do peek into apartments.
c. Carry a cell phone.
d. Only let people you know belong into your building.
e. Make it harder for people to peek into your apartment when you open the door. In my apartment, if I opened the door, people could see right into my living room. The tenant services coordinator was encouraging tenants to report ‘problems’ that they might see when someone opens the front door. To protect my privacy, I put up a curtain covering the entrance to my living room.
f. Always use your peephole when answering your door.
g. Always lock your door.
h. Keep easy to sell valuables hidden in unexpected places.
RELATIONS WITH OTHER TENANTS
1. Most senior citizen buildings have a group of people who have nothing better to do but to gossip. Avoid these people.
2. Many senior citizen buildings have bullies. Do not talk to the bully, the bully gang or their friends. Don’t even say ‘hi’ to them.
3. Choose your friends very carefully. Don’t be surprised if someone you thought was a friend turns on you.
4. Approach participating in the tenants’ association with caution. Avoid it altogether if a bully or member(s) of the bully gang are officers.
5. Approach officers of the tenants’ association cautiously. They might have courted support from the bully gang in order to get elected. Some people become petty tyrants once they have even a little bit of power.
6. [Nevertheless, you have a right to create, join, and participate in a tenants’ association. This association can be a constructive force in dealing with management on behalf of the tenants, and can improve relations among tenants. Success will depend on management making sure that bullies do not interfere. And active participation by tenants in the work of the association can assure that the leaders are responsive to the needs of the residents.—Jerry]
7. Try to ally yourself with other tenants who were/are being bullied. You might consider quietly setting up an alternative group to the tenants’ association, where people who have had problems with the bully gang can meet, offer mutual support, and discuss strategies. Encourage them to report bullying (and other lease violations) to your landlord. Your landlord is more likely to act if more than one tenant reports problems. There is safety in numbers.
8. Do not go to tenant run parties if you are sure that the bully or the bully gang will be there. It’s not worth the grief. It is safe to go to events in your building sponsored by someone from the outside (such as a political meeting, board of directors meeting, meeting called by your landlord).
DO A HOUSING SEARCH SO YOU WILL HAVE OPTIONS
1. There are web sites that have information about subsidized senior housing. My experience is that the web sites are incomplete and have outdated information. However, it is there, so use them
2. Contact your [Council on Aging] ]COA. Many COA’s have someone who is familiar with the subsidized housing opportunities in your area.
3. Apply for ALL apartments that might be even remotely acceptable. You can always say ‘No’.
4. Contact your politicians. My state senator has a staff member who helps seniors find appropriate housing.
KEEP YOUR SANITY
1. Try to have a life outside your building.
2. Have a regular volunteer job. There are lots of good volunteer opportunities that you can fit into your schedule and that are interesting. If you like kids, your local public school is always looking for volunteers—for example, tutors, people to help with after school activities, etc.
3. Visit your Council For The Aging. COA’s are very good resources. Many of them have information about volunteer opportunities. Some of them have housing advocates and social workers that can help deal with residential issues.
4. Be a tourist in your own home town.
5. Check-out your local senior centers. You might meet people with similar interests. Many senior centers organize trips/outings.
6. Many colleges have specific programs for retirees, sometimes called ‘Life Long Learning’.
7. Many high schools also have adult education programs.
8. Get Moving! Exercise/physical activity does a world of good, not for your body, but for your mind as well.
9. Most religious organizations (churches, shuls, etc) have clubs and organized volunteer activities. Consider getting involved in these.
GET POLITICALLY ACTIVE
1. Talk to your politicians about the problem of senior citizen bullying.
2. Help out politicians that are sympathetic toward your issues. Volunteer to help that politician with his or her campaign.
Thank you Jerry for this gem. Keep them coming, and I will be sending you true stories on the continuing bullying and abuse at the Sunset Apartments in [a city in Washington], that you may post with any privacy edits you choose.
Bonny gives good advice on never even saying "Hi" to certain bullies, because I have learned that what they report to management and their pals, is that I was "verbally aggressive"—whatever that means!
All the best, and keep the faith. You are doing a valuable work.
Everyone can help free people from bullying
Our plan: educate and enlist Beacon Hill lawmakers
We need the help of all citizens living in subsidized housing in the Commonwealth to identify trouble spots, housing which is free of bullying that can serve as models, and to witness and advocate. Wherever you live, you can advocate for change in HUD policies through your elected federal officials.