The state of California is investigating a case in which an elderly widow was reportedly forced to leave her apartment due to her religious convictions and advanced age.
Diana Martin had lived at the Windgate Village Apartments in Hanford for nearly 14 years. Back in February, the 85-year-old was told by the owner John Draxler that she was being evicted. Draxler also serves as the city's vice-mayor.
Even though Martin had months remaining on her year-to-year lease and her rent was fully paid, the Pacific Justice Institute says Draxler cited her religious activities—sharing her faith and offering to pray for people—as reasons why she must find a new home.
The owner knew Martin was recovering from severe health problems. When she began to cry, protesting that it was winter and she had no children living nearby, Draxler reportedly told her that was not his problem.
During a follow-up conversation with Martin's son, Draxler allegedly repeated the religious objection about Martin and her age. The widow had moved to the apartments because they had been marketed as senior living dwellings.
Draxler purchased the apartment complex a few years ago and has reportedly brought in younger tenants, removing older ones. Martin reluctantly moved out of her apartment. She then contacted the Pacific Justice Institute (PJI) for help.
PJI attorneys were astonished at what they found. Besides the discriminatory reasons offered for the eviction, PJI says the notice given to Martin was clearly defective as to its timing. After talks stalled with Draxler, PJI filed a discrimination charge with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.
"What happened to our client, Diana Martin, was wrong on many levels," PJI Attorney Matthew McReynolds said in a press release. "No one should be evicted based on their religious expression, but especially not an elderly great-grandmother. We are hopeful that a State investigation and remedial action will ensure this doesn't happen to anyone else in this community."
In addition to the discriminatory reasons given for the eviction, the ownership claimed Martin was "combative" with management. One of the conflicts between Martin and the management stemmed from their attempt to take away her longtime parking space and reassign her to one some distance from her door and next to a dumpster. Martin had raised safety concerns about homeless men foraging in the dumpster, so the move seemed retaliatory, according to PJI.
"Defending yourself against a management bully like this is not grounds for an eviction, it's just common sense," McReynolds noted. "I hope all of us could be described as combative if anyone tried to treat our mothers, grandmothers, or great-grandmothers this way."