Why it's doubly difficult for gay renters to find homes

In Goa over the last week, a minister said “Nigerians are like a cancer”, and conveniently pushed the blame on Nigerian nationals for the drug trade and a recent protest in the state over a murder.

In Mumbai, a local broker published an advertisement about a flat located at Dadar’s Hindu Colony on 99acres.com, an online property portal, where among other things he said, “No Muslims”. 99Acres in a press release condemned the ad but denied any responsibility saying the company was not liable in a case of prejudice, because as per the IT act they are simply "intermediaries" and their responsibility is to remove offensive content once it is brought to their notice.

That Indian society often seems to discriminate against anyone and everyone, and often flaunt it, is not news. This discrimination seems to be everywhere, based on caste, class, gender, skin colour, race, religion, even accents. Add to that list, discrimination based on who we choose to have sex with. This is a more insidious kind of discrimination because sexuality is not always apparent from appearance nor revealed by the surname. After the 99acres story, Firstpost decided to talk to LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people to understand the kind of discrimination they face while renting homes.

Jerry J. 31, works in corporate communication, Mumbai.

 Why its doubly difficult for gay renters to find homes

The Catch-22 is that gay couples, if they come out, can face landlord's homophobia and if they do not, they are vulnerable to landlord's bias against single people. Reuters

Jerry is 31 and lives with his 27-year-old partner in Mumbai.  When he was still in his 20s, this Mumbai born-and-raised corporate communication executive moved out of his family house to live with his partner. He’s been renting in the city for the last six years. “We are vulnerable at any point,” says Jerry. As a couple, they have shifted twice in the last four-five years due to various issues from snoopy neighbours to society members who look upon them with suspicion because they assume gay people are all about drinking, parties and orgies. “Just yesterday, I had a few friends visiting, one of whom was a transgender. A neighbour walked into the house and clearly threatened us about the kind of people visiting the house and said that though no one in the society had complained so far, if there were any complaints, anything could happen,” said Jerry.

Prashant W, a Mumbai-based real estate broker says, “Even if you are a young bachelor (assumed to be straight), by and large getting a house on rent is difficult. It’s assumed that they will use the place as a college pad, parties, and what not. Renting as a gay person or couple is even more difficult.” He told Firstpost that when it comes to young bachelors most societies have certain unwritten rules, like restriction on getting women home in the middle of the night. If you violate these rules, you could be asked to leave. “I tell gay people, don’t mention you are gay. Just mention that you both are friends, cousins, or even strangers, never tell them you are a couple, or partners, or getting a home won’t be easy,” Prashant says.

The Catch-22 is that gay couples, if they come out, can face landlord's homophobia and if they do not, they are vulnerable to landlord's bias against single people. “We never used our house as a college pad. In fact, we probably took more care of the place than most renters. But we still faced issues,” says Jerry.

Sridhar Rangayan, is a film maker from Mumbai

Unlike Jerry, Sridhar Rangayan and his partner have been luckier when it comes to landlord and rental apartments. Rangayan, who is 50, and his partner, who is 42, have lived in the same apartment together for as long as nine years. They are not the stereotypical bachelors with late-night house parties, and loud music. “I think when you rent a place everyone has to follow the society's rules, gay and straight. Live openly, but be responsible. Sometimes, we focus so much on our sexuality that we ignore participating or getting involved in the society matters,” Rangayan said. He says when it comes to getting an accommodation it's actually easier for a gay man than it is for transgender people since they are visibly different. Rangayan acknowledges that he’s been privileged and has the wherewithal to get things done, and make things happen. But he says that it’s particularly hard to get good rental accommodations for young gay men and lesbians who come from smaller towns to live an openly gay lifestyle and work in Mumbai. They often do not have that kind of financial freedom or a number of gay-friendly rental options out there.

Balachandran Ramiah, Mumbai-based management consultant

Ramiah has been open and out about being gay for years. For someone who has been in several corporate leadership positions and conducted personal finance workshops for the LGBT community, he knows about the various challenges faced by LGBT community. He agrees with both Jerry and Sridhar. "Getting rental accommodation for bachelors and single women is difficult, tougher if you are openly gay or an openly gay couple. But, abiding by society rules is a must as most landlords and neighbours won’t bother you." But even being good tenants does not mean immunity from homophobia or judgemental neighbours.

As far as single women goes, Shruta from Mumbai says, "It really varies from society to society. But getting a rental accommodation as a single woman is easier than getting one as a single man. But, once the woman moves in, there is a lot more scrutiny from neighbours." And since many lesbians are not out of the closet, getting an accommodation for them is not a very big challenge.

Landlord S.Ram says, “I would not mind giving gay couples my house on rent as long as they are good tenants. Who has sex with whom is none of my business.” But not all agree.

“Apart from assuming that gay people are all about parties, orgies, drug and all that, many landlords have irrational fear about HIV and AIDS, and paedophilia,” broker Prashant says.

While society will not grant gay couples legal status it also penalises them for not having the legal status of family.

“With the LGBT community, it’s always about sexuality. Family flats are about family, but with these people it’s not about family, but sexuality,” a sociologist told Firstpost. In many western cities, gay men are seen as a sign of neighbourhood gentrification but the sociologist here claims "They also lower the value of property."

His reasoning is "LGBT people will continue to be seen as trespassers and impure. They were once invisible but now they are visible in an urban middle class space."

Given such attitudes, it's not surprising that online resources to connect members of the LGBT community with LGBT-friendly housing have come up. Gay Housing Assistance Resource (G.H.A.R) a Facebook page started by Sachin Jain is a platform which connects those seeking/offering accommodation /seeking flatmate with other looking for the same within the LGBT community.

What’s wrong: G.H.A.R is trying to respond to a need because members of the LGBT community often feel forced to hide their orientation just to get a roof over their heads or do not know what to do when they are forced out of a rental because of their sexuality. Overcoming societal prejudice is a long haul but one answer to make things slightly better, at least for the same-sex couple, is making the relationship legal in the eyes of the law. Let's hope that law finally catches with reality that LGBT persons are an integral part of the community.

PS: Keep tracking this space to know more about how same-sex couples can buy property on joint basis.

Updated Date: Nov 12, 2013 19:51:56 IST