About two weeks ago, my partner and I finally found an apartment to rent. It wasn’t perfect, but it was structurally stable, had low rent and was mold-free, and so we figured that this was the best we are going to get. We made an appointment to meet the landlady and to sign on the place. We actually felt pretty lucky, since this apartment had been on the market for weeks and had dropped in price. We were getting a steal.
Let me start off by saying that the Tel Aviv housing market is both vicious and ridiculous, and so you have to go in with a plan. Apartments are snatched up within hours and often even minutes. Someone posts an apartment on Facebook and 20 minutes later, it will no longer be relevant. Apartment searching is a dirty game, and you have to play the game if you want to win (read: have a place to live).
Some people start looking three months in advance so that they can find a reasonable priced place that isn’t falling apart. Others will apartment-network, telling all of their contacts that they are looking for a new place so that they can snatch one up before it’s on the market. We like to go with the ‘absolutely tell them you want it and offer up your soul’ and then discuss if we actually only want it only after the fact, usually sending a text message the next day saying that we actually decided against it.
We are currently living in a studio and so our need to move has been growing. I was excited about this place. After all, not everyone in Tel Aviv has a yard! I could smell the vegetarian BBQ in my thoughts.
I arrived to the meet and greet only after my girlfriend and her friend arrived. Shifra gave me a look as I approached her that was a mixture of death and constipation, and I could tell she was furious. The landlady, whose hand I had just shook, was talking on the phone in a language I didn’t recognize, and Shifra quietly tells me that she doesn’t think the woman is going to rent us the place.
Now, I have experienced homophobia, but I am overall very privileged. I live in a liberal, fairly accepting city, and even when someone disapproves of my identity, they don’t usually share it with me. I get lots of homophobic questions, but it usually happens in LGBT frameworks I volunteer or work in, and so it rarely throws me off guard.
This time, I was shocked. I missed the initial encounter, but it apparently involved the landlady repeatedly asking Shifra if we were a couple. When she put the phone down and approached us, she kept her distance, opened her mouth and said:
“Now I am going to be very straight-forward. I love and respect you, but I had a lesbian couple who rented from me once and they were absolutely awful tenants, and I don’t want a repeat.”
Again, I realize that in the grand scheme of homophobic things that could be happen, this was relatively small. yet, it felt awful. This woman wouldn’t approach us and assumed that we were disrespectful by nature.
Before she even had the chance to finish her mini-speech, Shifra walked out, and rightly so. She told her that she wasn’t interested in renting from someone who so obviously judged her. I stayed in the apartment a bit longer, thinking that maybe this was a good opportunity for a teaching moment.
“You realize that you are taking two totally unrelated things, one being gay (wanted to say queer, but baby steps) and the other being a bad tenant, and assuming that there is a link between them. There is no link. Being gay is not a personality type, and it does not define how you treat other people. You get to choose how you interact with people, and you chose to disrespect us.”
“You misunderstand me. I am not assuming anything and I’m not homophobic. I love you!”
There are a lot of things I felt towards this landlady but love was definitely not on the list. This was a frustrating reaction, but I decided to press on in hopes that the next same-sex couple wanting to sign on a lease with her won’t have to go through the same experience. I went for a different approach.
“I think I get what you are saying. A lot of landlords I have had in the past who were really awful were straight. In fact, they were all straight! And now that I think of it, all my friends’ bad landlords were straight too! So being straight must make you a bad landlord.”
“Well that’s ridiculous!”
She apologized. Was it heartfelt? Not really. She said sorry twice and agreed that she should not have said it. She also made it clear that she wouldn’t apologize again because twice is enough.
We should have walked out then and there. There was no moving forward with this person. In addition to her homophobic words, she also wanted us to pay for a lawyer to draw up the contract and said that she would take no part in fixing anything that wasn’t working, even if it was infrastructure. But it’s Tel Aviv, and this apartment hunting seriously makes you reconsider your own morals.
So naturally, we told her we’d take it and then walked out, discussing the experience over dinner with friends.
She did, of course, get the text message next morning letting her know that we decided against taking the apartment. This time though, it wasn’t about the price, the location or the black mold on the ceiling; it was about respect. Part of me feels like a bad activist for initially telling her we’d take it. Yet, I also felt immense pleasure in knowing that we waited 12 whole hours to let her think that the apartment she was losing money on had been rented, and then destroyed her hopes and dreams.