Can property owners interrupt your sleep or otherwise make you uncomfortable simply because you are not paying rent?

**** The information written here is not legal advice and the author of this blog is not your lawyer.  These posts merely contain ideas to help you plan and organize your legal research and identify potentially helpful sources of law. ****

 

The law does not allow anyone to be tormented in exchange for the simple opportunity to sleep indoors.

Although this is a problem that can be efficiently resolved by leaving the place, the question deserves legal analysis.  If someone were invited to stay in a place and then got berated or hassled or physically bothered by the host, he could legitimately ask the police to charge that host with criminal harassment.

The Model Penal Code declares that harassment is a petty misdemeanor that happens when someone: “insults, taunts or challenges another in a manner likely to provoke violent or disorderly response; …makes repeated communications anonymously or at extremely inconvenient hours, or in offensively coarse language; or… subjects another to an offensive touching; or … engages in any other course of alarming conduct serving no legitimate purpose of the actor.”[i] 

         
State crimes codes elaborate on the Model Penal Code’s definition. In New Jersey, harassment includes behavior that “subjects another to striking, kicking, shoving, or other offensive touching, or threatens to do so…or any other course of alarming conduct or of repeatedly committed acts with purpose to alarm or seriously annoy such other person.” [ii]  In Connecticut, harassing behavior is included in the crime of disorderly conduct when someone “by offensive or disorderly conduct, annoys or interferes with another person”. [iii]  
In Maryland, harassment occurs when someone, “maliciously engage[s] in a course of conduct that alarms or seriously annoys the other…with the intent to harass, alarm, or annoy the other; after receiving a reasonable warning or request to stop by or on behalf of the other; and without a legal purpose.” [iv] In New Mexico, “Harassment consists of knowingly pursuing a pattern of conduct that is intended to annoy, seriously alarm or terrorize another person and that serves no lawful purpose. The conduct must be such that it would cause a reasonable person to suffer substantial emotional distress.” [v] 
These are just a few representative examples to show that generally bothersome behavior truly can be punishable by law. The states follow the Model Penal Code’s classification of harassment as a minor crime, likely to result in a fine or community service, but not jail time.   
If the taunting or annoying behavior makes the victim afraid of getting hurt, both the crime and the punishment for it would become more serious. Then, the crime would be assault [vi] and the punishment could involve jail time. Examples of the kind of harassment that might count as assault could include showing a weapon or raising fists, making verbal threats, having a group of people collectively mock the homeless visitor, and using a menacing tone to demand that the homeless visitor do something. 
Victims of harassment or assault are not limited to the criminal justice system for help. They can sue their tormentors for money damages in civil court. The claims might include assault, battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, or harassment. See the posts about court for more details about making a civil case.
 


[i]Model Penal Code §250.4 (1962).

[ii] N.J. Stat. Ann. §2C:33-4 (West 2007).

[iii] Conn. Gen. Stat. §53a-182(2) (2006).

[iv] Md. Code Ann., Crim. Law §3-803(a) (West 2006).

[v] N.M. Stat. Ann. §30-3A-2(a) (LexisNexis 2007).

[vi] Model Penal Code §211.1(1)(c) (1962), defines simple assault to include: “attempts by physical menace to put another in fear of imminent serious bodily injury.”

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