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Ask Izzy: My landlord keeps dead-naming me

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Ever since I was a kid, I have been using my own experiences (and traumas) as a bisexual, neurodivergent chronic over-sharer to help my friends, family, and even random strangers on the internet have stronger relationships, better sex, and healthier mindsets. I find joy in writing about all the things no one else wants to talk about. The more cringe, the better.

Using my experience and my innate ability to connect with empathy, every other week I will respond to your questions about life, love, friendships, sexuality, mental health, and whatever else is on your mind. Nothing is off limits.

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Dear Izzy,
My landlord keeps dead-naming me and has stated multiple times that he thinks I'm living with a roommate despite me being the only one on the lease since 2019 and using my current name. He has tried to charge me double for insurance, has increased my utilities to the cost of two people, and plans on raising my rent by about $150 in March to accommodate his beliefs. His notices start with "[Dead Name] et al.," implying there are several people living in my small studio apartment. I love my home and I'm not sure I'm financially stable enough to move out, but I feel his actions are transphobic and retaliatory because I continue to politely point him toward reality. What should I do? —Exasperated in Eastlake

Dear Exasperated,

I am so sorry that you are dealing with this. You are right — your landlord's behavior is 100% transphobic, and what you are dealing with is not okay.

First and foremost, your safety and emotional well-being is priority #1. I can't even begin to imagine what it feels like to be in your shoes, so all I can say is that it's okay to feel upset and distraught by this. Not only is it okay, but it is also expected.

Before we look at solutions, it's important to acknowledge your own emotions and make space to feel however you may be feeling. You can do this by closing your eyes, focusing on your breath, and grounding into the present moment. Watch what feelings arise and sit with them. This is not an easy situation to navigate, and it's going to take resiliency and courage to move through it, traits that I have no doubt that you exemplify. You are one strong-ass motherfucker. You can do hard things.

If you truly do not want to move out (even though I think you should, because your landlord is a bigot), then you have protections according to the federal Fair Housing Act and the Washington Law Against Discrimination. Thanks to a helpful infographic I found on the King County website, here are the best ways to protect yourself if you have faced discrimination (which I believe you have):

  • 1. Act quickly: The housing agencies that investigate complaints of possible discrimination are only able to do so if it happened in the last year. The longer you wait, the harder it will be to prove your case.

  • 2. Document everything: It is crucial to keep detailed notes about every negative action taken against you for when you bring this to court. Write down exactly what was said and done, and the dates, times, and people involved. If you have witness statements, even better. This also includes keeping all records (voicemails, written emails, notes, etc.).

  • 3. Get support: I recommend calling the Tenants' Rights Hotline at (206) 723-0500, which offers trained non-attorney tenant counselors via free phone counseling services to help you figure out the best course of action.

    One important thing to note is that no one is going to help you enforce your rights if you don't stay on top of it. "Landlord-tenant laws in Washington State are considered 'self-help' — it is up to individual tenants to get their rights enforced," according to the Tenants Union of Washington State. To learn more, check out its website at tenantsunion.org. Here are some other resources to access help:

  • The CLEAR Line Legal Help at 888-201-1014

  • Solid Ground Tenant Services at 206-694-6767

  • The Seattle Office for Civil Rights for properties inside the city limits of Seattle: 206-684-4500 or TTY relay: 711; online: https://www.seattle.gov/civilrights/

  • King County Office of Civil Rights for properties in unincorporated King County: 206-263-2446 or TTY relay: 711; online: https://www.kingcounty.gov/civilrights/

  • Washington State Human Rights Commission for properties anywhere in Washington: 800-233-3247 or TTY 800-300-7525; online: https://www.hum.wa.gov/

  • Fair Housing Center of Washington Advocates for renters and home buyers in Western Washington: 253-274-9523 or 888-766-8800 or TTY 711; online: https://www.fhcwashington.org/

    Thank you for being brave and asking for help. You are doing the right thing! Finally, do not be afraid to act. Fair housing laws prohibit retaliation against people for filing a complaint or for otherwise claiming their civil rights. Don't let your landlord scare you.