Update: After I wrote to the landlord, he gave a heartfelt and genuine apology, and said he’d act differently next time. I really appreciate it when people reconsider their views and actions, and I want to acknowledge the effort involved.
I recently had to move house unexpectedly, due to my previous landlord wanting the space back. There were only 9 days between the time I was asked to move out, and when I finished moving house. (This rapid pace wasn’t due to my previous landlord, it just happened that way.)
I looked at a significant number of properties, inspected rooms at six, and came up with a shortlist of four, which I felt ranged from excellent to tolerable. (One declined as they chose another person, and another didn’t get back to me.)
I called the first potential landlord, and we had a chat about specific arrangements to move the next day. I then said: “[When] would you like to meet my boyfriend?” (Who was going to help me move, so meeting him wasn’t really optional.) There were a few seconds’ silence on the phone. The landlord (who lives in the room next to the one I was applying for), asked if my boyfriend would be around much. There was a little awkwardness in the conversation, but it seemed like he recovered quickly. We continued to make arrangements for him to send me the bank account details later that afternoon, so that I could secure the room upon payment. I was looking forward to being close to work, which is why the place was at the top of my shortlist.
I spent the afternoon feeling I had made a terrible mistake disclosing my sexuality and relationship status. I baked biscuits. Because, when you burn biscuits, it’s obvious, and you can throw them out. But when you burn landlords, …
Finally, several hours after I expected to receive bank details via text, I instead received a phone call: “You’re not going to be very happy with me.” Apparently, the landlord and current tenant(s) had decided they only wanted students in the house. (Which seems implausible, given that the ad mentioned a full-time worker as an occupant. It also offered a room suitable for a couple, so that wasn’t the issue.) I told him that at this stage of the process, he could evaluate applicants on whatever basis he wished. And wished him luck finding applicants who suited his criteria.
But I was wrong, at least about the ways in which it is legal to evaluate accommodation applicants. Under ACT law, it is illegal to discriminate against those seeking or accessing accommodation at any stage of the application or tenancy process. (Of course, it still happens.) And, it is illegal to discriminate on the grounds of (assumed) sexuality, relationship status, or, ironically, the thinly-veiled excuse of occupation. [Correction: If the landlord lives on the premises, their selection of tenants is exempted from ani-discrimination law. I was mistaken because I didn’t read the whole of the Discrimination Act. I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice.] I told the potential landlord this today. [And I’m just about to eat my words. How awkward.] I doubt he’ll respond. Perhaps he’ll be more clever in his excuses next time. (I guess I could have ended up educating him so he could be more subtly discriminatory.) I hope he reconsiders his attitudes. But, if he doesn’t, he [may be] in a bit of a bind, [at least when it comes to advertising his tenant preferences].
I feel like it would have wasted much less of both our time, if he could have been upfront about his preference for avoiding people he assumes are gay. (I’m bisexual, but I think that distinction would have been lost on him.) Or people in non-straight relationships. Or “people who aren’t students, except for the non-sutdent(s) already living there”. Or whatever. It would be terrible for someone to move in, the landlord to discover they’re gay, and then for them to face overt discrimination for the duration of their contract.
But, due to anti-discrimination law, landlords stating a preference for straight tenants really isn’t an option [unless they are living on the premises]. I doubt the accommodation website would permit it [due to the unlawful (discriminatory advertising) part of the law, and even with the exception for living on the premises, they may not want to be associated with any ads which state “no gays”, however legal] (although I did tell them what he did). It would be unpleasant for me to read through hundreds of ads saying “no gays”. And it would be terrible to not have anywhere to live, simply because I wasn’t straight. I now understand why LGBTIQ people often want to live with other LGBTIQ people.
The accommodation website I used offered applicants (but not landlords), the opportunity to create a profile, and choosing to disclose their sexuality. I believe people should be able to choose whether to disclose their sexuality, and I often choose not to if it seems irrelevant. But if it helps avoid an unpleasant situation like this next time, it’s well worth it.
Now, I’m not homeless. I found some housemates who really don’t mind my sexuality (or my boyfriend). And I moved, fast.
But there are LGBTIQ people around the world who face all sorts of discrimination on a daily basis. Who are homeless as a result, and at a much greater rate than straight people. Particularly young people, whose parents can’t bear to live with them (or treat them abusively), simply because they are gay (US-based figures). What an incredible tragedy.
Blogging Update: It appears that I am going to have to get used to the idea of being an intermittent blogger. There are higher priorities which are taking up a lot of my time right now. And, as a programmer, I already spend a lot of time at a keyboard. So I will satisfy myself with occasional rants. Like this one!