Faces of DFEH – Morgan Balentine and Alexander Zeek

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Discrimination based on disability

What was your experience that led you to seek out help from DFEH?

My partner and I were looking for a place to live in San Francisco. We heard from a friend, about a lovely cottage in the neighborhood, that an elderly woman wanted to rent to someone local. Alexander got her phone number, called her and she met with him and showed him the cottage. She said she had just put in new floors, which meant no pets. He liked the place and she agreed to rent to us. Later Alexander called her and told her that I had a support animal, a cat named Penny, to help with my anxiety. He told her I had a doctor’s letter explaining my situation. She got very angry and said I told you no pets. Alex said I had anxiety issues and needed the cat. She said she didn’t want someone like that living on her property. When he called and told me what she said, I told him that it was against the law and to call her back and tell her to send us the rental application. When we never received the application, we called her and she said she wasn’t going to send us the application because of the cat and she hung up.

How did that experience affect you?

I was very upset because I knew I was being discriminated against for something that I couldn’t help. I started doing some research and found this organization called HELP, which sent out a tester with a story similar to mine and she refused to rent to them. HELP sent the case to DFEH. The whole experience was an emotional roller coaster as DFEH lawyers went back and forth with her lawyer. A few days before court, she agreed to a settlement, and admitted her wrongdoing, but as we were leaving she said she wasn’t going to pay anything. It took two years after the settlement before she finally paid us.

What do you want people to take away from your experience?

Persistence. I learned the importance of persistence. At times we thought that it wasn’t worth the time and effort, let alone the stress. But it was worth it because justice was served and I hope she learned from what ended up being an expensive lesson.

What do you want people to know about discrimination based on disability?

It’s a horrible thing to be discriminated against. Most people are discriminated against because of something that they can’t help. It is an awful feeling. People need to educate themselves on their rights as tenants. A lot of people would not have questioned someone simply because she was the landlord.

How was your experience with the DFEH?

The DFEH attorneys were with us every step of the way, wisely advising us. I felt they had our best interests at heart and were there to make sure that what was done to us was made right. They felt that it was important that the landlord faced consequences for her illegal actions.