BOSTON – Attorney General Maura Healey has sued a landlord in Lynn for allegedly intimidating, harassing, and threatening to report his tenants to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in order to prevent them from reporting dangerous and unsanitary living conditions in their apartments. AG Healey is also seeking a preliminary injunction in court against the landlord to protect the tenants who live in fear for their safety.
“Tenants have rights, no matter where they are from or what their immigration status might be,” AG Healey said. “This landlord tormented his tenants, causing them to fear for their own safety. No one should have to live like that. We are suing to protect the rights of these tenants and to prevent any future tenant from having to suffer this kind of abuse in their own home.”
“Nobody should have to live in fear of being reported to ICE, especially not in their own homes,” said Eva Millona, President & CEO of the MIRA Coalition. “Anyone who threatens to call ICE in an attempt to harass or intimidate immigrants must be held accountable – and MIRA is grateful to Attorney General Healey and her team for seeking justice in this heartbreaking case.”
“We applaud the Attorney General’s leadership in ensuring the safety and well-being of everyone in our communities, especially during the pandemic,” said Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, Executive Director of Lawyers for Civil Rights. “Right now, housing insecurity is very real. We must remain vigilant to make sure property owners are not using coercive measures, including the threat of deportation, against tenants to displace or evict them.”
“The housing crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic hit immigrant communities in Lynn really hard, and a lot of the essential workers we have all depended on are struggling with unaffordable rent and unsafe conditions,” said Flerida De La Cruz, an organizer for the community organization, Lynn United for Change. “It’s so important for people to know they can raise their voices when something is wrong, no matter their immigration status. Everyone should have a safe and dignified home.”
The AG’s lawsuit alleges that She Ling Wang violated the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act and the state’s fair housing and consumer protection laws when he harassed, intimidated, and verbally and physically threatened Latinx tenants and their families in an effort to prevent them from reporting or addressing the unsanitary living conditions in their apartments, which included vermin infestations, damaged walls and ceilings, severe leaks, broken windows, non-functioning smoke detectors and inoperable appliances. The AG’s complaint alleges that Wang would frequently enter apartments in a three-unit building on Lloyd Street that he owns without notice or permission, and when the tenants complained about the intrusiveness, Wang allegedly would call them demeaning names and tell them it was his house and he could do what he wanted.
According to the AG’s Office, in July 2020, two tenants withheld rent after a continuous leak in their ceiling ruined their mattress and caused property damage. In response, Wang allegedly physically threatened the female tenant and later threatened to call ICE and have their family deported. Several days later, Wang illegally served the tenants with a notice to quit, giving them 14 days to move out, in violation of the state’s COVID-19 eviction moratorium. The tenants then reported the poor and unsanitary conditions in their apartment to the City of Lynn’s Inspectional Services Department, which then inspected the property and issued a notice of violation to Wang.
After Wang learned that the tenants called the city’s Inspectional Services Department, Wang allegedly told the tenants that he had laws and ways of getting them out of there. Not long after Wang’s threat, ICE agents arrived at the apartment building and arrested one of the tenants. The tenant was ultimately released from ICE custody, but Wang’s intimidation and direct threats continued – including text messages that included photos of news articles about the arrest with the tenant’s name underlined and a follow up text that read “…the game is over, please respect The Law And talk to your lawyer”.
The AG’s Office further alleges that Wang harassed another tenant, who complained about a cockroach and mouse infestation in her apartment. Wang refused to fix the infestation and became physically and verbally aggressive with the tenant, telling her that if she didn’t like it, she could leave. According to the AG’s Office, late last year, Wang went to the tenant’s apartment to fix a non-functioning smoke detector, and while there, threw part of the smoke detector at the tenant while her young daughter was standing nearby. The AG’s Office alleges that when the tenant brought up Wang’s intrusiveness and the apartment’s poor conditions, Wang threatened to call ICE on her and have her deported. In another incident, Wang allegedly went to the apartment and loudly and repeatedly banged on the door, and the tenant’s young daughter hid under the kitchen table in fear.
According to the AG’s Office, Wang has a history of threatening and harassing his tenants. One prior tenant claimed that after she asked Wang for help with needed repairs, he entered her apartment without permission, grabbed her by the collar, and began shaking her. He threatened to report this tenant to ICE, as well. His behavior ultimately forced her to move out.
The AG’s motion for a preliminary injunction asks the court to require Wang to no longer communicate with any of the tenants described in the motion, and their families, and maintain a reasonable physical distance from them, their places of employment and their residences, unless he is making necessary repairs to their apartments. The motion also asks the court to prohibit Wang from assaulting, threatening, or intimidating any current, former, or future tenants, or causing damage to their property. It also asks that he be banned from entering their homes without permission. The AG’s Office seeks to ban Wang from contacting any witnesses who have cooperated with the AG’s Office in this case, and from preventing the tenants from taking recourse against him.
The AG’s lawsuit seeks civil penalties and restitution for the tenants harmed.
Under the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act, it is illegal for an individual to interfere with a person’s rights by threatening, intimidating or coercing them. Specific to this case, it’s unlawful to threaten, intimidate or coerce a tenant to get them to leave the property, including by threatening to report them to immigration authorities. It’s also unlawful to discriminate against tenants on the basis of national origin under the state’s fair housing law. The state’s consumer protection law and supporting regulations further prevent landlords from willfully interfering with their tenant’s quiet enjoyment of their apartments.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, AG Healey’s Office has handled more than 200 complaints relating to the eviction moratorium and has been able to stop more than 80 illegal evictions. These include “self-help” evictions – where landlords attempt to circumvent the court process by forcibly removing the tenants from their home like Wang did.
AG Healey’s Civil Rights Division urges any tenant who is being harassed, threatened or discriminated against to call the division’s hotline at (617) 963-2917 or file a complaint online. Click here for information from the AG’s Office reminding landlords and other housing providers that all tenants have a right to be free from harassment and intimidation.
This case is being handled by Assistant Attorney General David Ureña and Special Assistant General Hailey Jenkins, both of AG Healey’s Civil Rights Division with assistance from Ciara Tran of AG Healey’s Civil Investigations Division.