“landlord weirdly asked them where they were going to sleep” – Housing Discrimination Recourse for LGBT Renters?

Photo by PoPville flickr user NCinDC

“Dear PoPville,

Two of my good female friends in their late 20s are looking for a place in DC. They both have great full-time jobs and excellent references. They went to look at a 2br townhouse apartment yesterday and the landlord weirdly asked them where they were going to sleep, which is totally creepy in its own right. When he realized they are a lesbian couple (neither presents as “stereotypically queer” and he was totally civil until they said they were planning to use the 2nd bedroom as an office) he started talking about charging them all kinds of additional fees and putting on additional restrictions to rent the apartment (a fee for the backyard, unlisted hefty application fee, “for you I’m going to say no pets” when they said they have a small dog even though the listing clearly allowed pets, higher security deposit than what’s allowed by DC code, etc.).

I’ve encouraged them to file a complaint with the DC Office of Human Rights to report the landlord for housing discrimination. The problem is that this isn’t necessarily prima facie housing discrimination, since it’s not like he listed “NO GAYS” in his advertisement and never directly refused to rent to them. Has anyone else had this experience? What did you do about it, if anything? They clearly won’t be living there, but are there other ways to flag this chump so others don’t unwittingly sign a lease and have to deal with his bullshit if they happen to be LGBTQ?”

88 Comment

  • Definitely contact the Office of Human Rights and the Office of Tenant Advocate. It doesn’t have to say “No Gays” to be a prima facie case…. nor is a prima facie case even necessary under the law.
    May also want to reach out to some of the LGBT activist groups … Lamba Legal, HRC, as well as local newspapers/magazines such as City Paper, Washington Blade, Metro Weekly etc. Even though they might not be able to solve the problem, a journalist may want to write about the issue.

  • I wonder what would happen if “Sue” emailed, said she loved the place and will even pay a small premium to get it. And what would the response be if Sue (and her girlfriend, by the way) would love to stop by and see it and oh would you let me know if you are available anytime this week. Conversely, if Becky emailed, said she was on the fence, and was only available to visit for 30 minutes tomorrow (with her boyfriend, by the way), what would the response be?

    The differences in those responses might be interesting, when viewed with the facts already in hand.

  • Accountering

    What a loser… If I am renting to someone, my concern is if they are going to care for the place, and if they are going to pay their rent. That’s it. This guy deserves to be reported, and (if this is all true) deserves any repercussions he gets. There is a place for this kind of bigotry… its called Virginia.

    • +1 for any jab at VA

    • +1 on all those

      He’s a business idiot if he prefers roommates to a couple for tenants. Couples are statistically the better choice with calmer social lives, more organized personal lives and less overall issues.

    • Ugh. On behalf of all the LGBT individuals and their allies living in Virginia and trying to change the laws, you can kindly cram it. VA might be this blog’s favorite punching bag, but there is NO place for bigotry in society, I don’t care where you live.

      • +1 the hypocrisy of the previous poster is appalling.

      • I don’t think the previous poster was trying to say that bigotry BELONGS in Virginia. Just that you expect it more in Virginia than you would in DC.

        • Have you heard of Ken Cuccinelli and before him the specific removal by the VA legislature of sexuality as a protected class under their anti-discrimination laws….so yeah, VA does encourage bigotry, fact…not opinion.

          • Accountering

            I hate to +1… but yeah… +1.

          • Yes, I have heard of him. I also know that he wasn’t elected to the governorship and that current AG Mark Herring has petitioned the Supreme Court to hear a case to strike down the state amendment banning gay marriage. SCOTUS”s closed door conference on the issue is next Monday. So while VA has made some horrible decisions in the past, the current leadership is trying to reverse the course.

          • Accountering

            That is fair, he did not win, but he was quite close. If he wasn’t quite so radical, he would have won.
            Just because they are starting to fix some of the issues does not mean all is well. The south is STILL working to fix some of the racism issues, and many would say they have stopped making progress. Fact is, a huge portion of Virginia would happily discriminate against gay people, strictly for the fact of fact they are gay.

          • Accounteering, I completely agree with you on that one. After all, VA gave its residents the vote on whether a class of its residents could have basic rights, which blows my mind that that’s even permissible. However, some of us down here aren’t completely ass-backwards and do vote, volunteer, and campaign on behalf of marriage equality. Sorry, you just happened to hit a pet peeve of mine after a long and trying week. 🙂

      • VA is hardly this blogs favorite punching bag. Have you read the posts/comments about Maryland drivers …..?

      • Accountering

        I didn’t think this was going to be controversial, but I suppose I could have worded it better. Of course there isn’t a place for bigotry. I thought I made that clear. Just that this is something you would expect to see in Virginia.

        • “Of course there isn’t a place for bigotry. I thought I made that clear.”
          “There is a place for this kind of bigotry… its called Virginia.”
          Yeah, I agree that you could have worded that one better.

    • I think you need to go back to Virginia.

    • I get that you’re trying to take a jab at Virginia, but there is no place for this kind of bigotry in a just society.

  • That’s not quite what prima facie means anyway, just because someone uses subterfuge to discriminate doesn’t mean it’s not a prima facie case (especially since subterfuge as a means of discrimination is explicitly references and banned by the HRA) — you’re probably thinking of a different, yet often confused concept that translates to “the thing speaks for itself” — so, don’t worry about it not being open or blatant, or that a landlord saying “no pets” doesn’t necessarily speak for itself as discrimination. That really doesn’t matter. It’s the toatlly of what he did once he learned they were gay. Encourage your friends to file the case.

  • Obviously this seems like discrimination.

    But, I’m curious… whats the desired outcome, or the goal, of contacting authorities/civil rights groups/press?

    • Why do they need to have a goal? They were discriminated against, and the landlord should be punished for that.

    • I’d say the goal is to expose the landlord for what he is- a bigoted douche bag. Personally, I wouldn’t even want someone like this to be forced to rent to gay people (and I am gay) since who knows how he would treat them once they were renters. I’d rather have this guy publicly outed so I could avoid renting from him entirely. I also wouldn’t mind him being fined considerably, but that would be icing on the cake.

    • Not the OP, but I think the goal here is to thwart further discrimination. Thought that was clear.

    • The goal is to discourage other bigots from acting on their bigotry, creating a culture of acceptance (you don’t have to like it to accept it).

    • Ok, I guess I dont understand how civil rights groups and the office of human rights is going to be able to deliver on the public flaying desired by the OP and subsequent posters. I guess the press could, but I dont think they’d be interested in a one-off thing based on a single personal experience.

      Maybe you can post something to an anonymous gay forum asking if others have experienced the same with him?

      I just dont know how you avoid defamation accusations.

      It just seems like one of those things that sucks, but unless you have the time and money to burn, you won’t do anything except maybe make yourself feel a bit better.

    • At the very least I would say one goal should be to revoke the landlord’s basic business license.

  • Unfortunately there is no case here as no actual laws were broken. I would also strongly discourage taking the advice to take this to a publication as you yourself might wind up in court over defamation.

    • if what they describe is true, it can’t be defamation, and they most definitely can go to the media. Defamation laws are notoriously hard to win unless the other person was outright lying AND that fact can be proven AND that fact measurably damaged the person who was lied about. The standard is so incredibly high that there’s no way someone telling the truth would ever have to worry about a defamation claim.

      And arguably the DCHRA has been violated.

      • To be fair, he said “end up in court” not “lose”. I agree with him. How much is justice worth out of your own pocket?

        Plus, even though I think it was anti-gay, how do they prove that he wasnt just discriminating against them because of his sincerely held religious beliefs that he shouldnt contribute to unmarried people having sex? I know I’ve been discriminated against by landlords when I was shopping for a rental with my girlfriend. I legitimately dont know if what I encountered is illegal, but i doubt it.

        • This is an interesting point. I had a friend who was sued for something that was really very clearly not against the law. The judge let it go to a jury. He won, but the trial cost him his life savings and more. Just because you didn’t do anything wrong, doesn’t mean you won’t wind up in court. Sucks, but that is our system.

    • Actually, it’s called a “bait and switch” and is blatantly illegal. You cannot advertise with one set of information and then suddenly change the rules – the fee for the backyard, the “for You…no pets.” crap, the application fee – it’s all illegal no matter what the reason. Turn the SOB over the authorities and find a landlord that isn’t a total d*ck.

    • The Disctrict of Columbia’s Fair Housing Law has 19 protected classes, one of which is sexual orientation. So yes, a law was broken here, DC’s Fair Housing Law. You can find all resources about this, including a complaint form, right here: http://ohr.dc.gov/fairhousing
      Best of luck

      • Wrong. There is no proof that he did anything because they were gay. That’s all complete speculation because this city is full of liberals who love to find things to be offended by.

        • His attitude changed after it was obvious they’re a lesbian couple. It was after he realized they were gay that he began changing the rules. You’re right, there’s no conclusive proof, but there is a preponderance of evidence that he’s an anti-gay schmuck.

        • Are you the landlord?

        • As I said earlier, the law specifically bans EXACTLY what he did, which was to use subterfuge to hide his discrimination.

          If you don’t know what you’re talking about, try to STFU. Okay?

  • A fee for the backyard? Some people have no shame. Only prejudices, apparently.

  • yeah, it sounds like he is discriminating…. but do you want to get dragged into a fight with him? Do you really want to rent from a landlord like this? you’re not going to change his attitude / opinions. move on and forget about it

    • I don’t think they want to change his attitude / opinions. They want to change his behavior, and that’s a definite possibility. He’s allowed to be a bigoted homophobe. He’s not allowed to discriminate.

    • No need. All the person has to do is report him. You can find the DC Fair Housing complaint forms online.

  • > landlord weirdly asked them where they were going to sleep

    My first thought here was that he wanted to know in which room to install the hidden camera smoke detector.

  • Ugh sorry to hear this. You should report it to the proper authorities and at the very least make it known to your other gay friends so they don’t end up renting from this guy. Who knows, he could have multiple properties. When my now-fiancee and I were looking at apartments a year ago we had some interesting experiences, but no discrimination. One landlord was showing us his 1 bedroom condo and was like “Yeah, you can probably fit 2 twin beds in the bedroom. I don’t know how close of friends you are though, maybe you’re comfortable sleeping in the same bed.” Yeah buddy, no problems sharing a bed, haha!

  • Also contact the Fair Housing Alliance. They sometimes send out testers. If the landlord owns only this one property though, he may not be subject to certain anti-discrimination provisions of fair housing laws.

  • “Housing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity and expression is illegal in the
    District of Columbia. Fair Housing is your right. If you think you’ve been the target of discrimination,
    visit http://www.ohr.dc.gov or call (202) 727-4559.” http://ohr.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/ohr/publication/attachments/Fair%20Housing%20Ad%202012%20-%20Sexual%20Orientation%20and%20Gender%20Identity.pdf

  • So as a small-time landlord in DC, I usually click on landlord-related headlines here expecting to see a fair amount of projection onto the landlord that fails to consider anything but a tenants’ desires. But not in this case. That’s straight-up BS. I’d report this dude up and down the line. Ultimately, OP’s friends won’t get the apartment, and probably don’t want it, but there’s much to be said for the “see something, say something”-principle in this case. Or just making sure karma lives up to its retributive reputation in this case.

  • dchumanrights

    Dear Writer — We were alerted to this post via several PoPville readers (thank you to them). Whenever you believe you’ve been discriminated against in the areas of housing, employment, public accommodations or educational institutions, we at the DC Office of Human Rights encourage you to file a complaint with our office. A housing complaint can be filed at ohr.dc.gov/page/complaints. We are fortunate to live in a city where discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression is not tolerated.

    Feel free to contact us at 202.727.4559 with any questions! #DC19

    Sincerely, OHR

  • I run one of the larger LGBT blogs and I’m based here in DC. Shoot me over the landlord’s name, number and address and I’ll go check it out. The name & contact info for the lesbian couple would be helpful – even if they don’t want to go on the record or be named in a story.

  • Don’t rent from the guy if you don’t like him.

    You have no “right” to rent his property.

    • You have that completely backwards. The problem is not that they don’t like him, it is pretty clearly that he doesn’t like them, and is engaging in illegal business practices because of that animus.

  • Normally when engaged in shopping for a good or service, if I think I’m treated shabbily, I refuse to buy the person’s product and move along. The real solution here is to increase the supply of housing and reduce regulations which dissuade people from becoming landlords. With more competition, landlords like this guy couldn’t afford to be so choosy and afford to discriminate as easily.

    • Really?
      So what do you do if you find the product or service that suits you, and you want or even need it, but the store or worker refuses to sell it to you? And that product or service is rather hard to find, so perhaps you must pay a lot more, or go far away, or settle for something inferior to what you have been, ahem, DENIED.
      Please help me understand. What do you do in that case?

      • “So what do you do if you find the product or service that suits you, and you want or even need it, but the store or worker refuses to sell it to you? And that product or service is rather hard to find, so perhaps you must pay a lot more, or go far away, or settle for something inferior to what you have been, ahem, DENIED.”

        Please furnish a specific example of when this has happened to you. Meeting those conditions.

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