By John Cochran
This past April, my partner and I decided to live together. Both of us work at the University of Iowa and our jobs are in proximity to the downtown area, so we hoped to find a place within walking distance.
We started by viewing at least two-dozen apartments, houses and duplexes. More than half of the units we visited were cramped, dirty and poorly kept. They reeked of pot or cat piss, lacked adequate amounts of air and sunlight, or were sad remnants of once-splendid family homes.
After staring at Craigslist until our eyes went numb, and driving ourselves dizzy around the city calling numbers on rental signs, it was a tremendous consolation to discover a few habitable, even neat and spacious, residences. However, to my anger and bewilderment, the seemingly ceaseless sifting through decrepit apartments was only an introduction to what would become our true rental troubles.
I am a late middle-aged man — however young at heart I may be — and my partner is in her mid-20s. I consider her my best friend and the one great love of my life. Age, in our opinion and as the old saying goes, is just a number and has no bearing upon what a man and a woman are capable of feeling for one another.
Unfortunately, the various landlords of Iowa City disagreed, and in our search for a home together, we were eyeballed, grilled about our relationship and subsequently dismissed with Byzantine or patronizing comments. If we were lucky, we escaped with just a smirk and an “equal opportunity” residency application.
We are far from uncleanly miscreants and take pride in keeping a well-maintained and — I will add — tastefully decorated home. When we approached landlords that had explicitly stated in advertisements or over the phone that they were seeking tidy, more mature tenants, we were repeatedly turned down and told that the properties had been let to younger students.
As we toured apartments, we felt as though we were being paraded about as a curiosity, guided through homes by rote obligation since our candidacy as tenants seemed to have already been decided. We were probed with insulting questions about “what our families thought” and even asked to put out up-front sums that had not been earlier disclosed. We fled, disgusted and demoralized, growing more despondent about finding a clean—or even any—reasonably priced home.
I have always been comfortable living in Iowa City, and am proud to have been raised in the area — its reputation for openness, acceptance and an educated populace always made it somewhat of a Midwest oasis. As long as I can remember, there has always been toleration, and in the more recent years, more genuine respect and consideration for people regardless of color or sexual orientation.
Toleration and respect, I realized through my rental search, did not extend to heterosexual partners of “discongruent” ages. As our frustrations mounted, we turned once more to Craigslist, posting an ad for a professional couple seeking housing.
After receiving several responses, we visited a few beautiful properties. Once again, after introducing ourselves as dedicated partners, we sensed an uneasiness and apprehension in our would-be landlords. It was not until we were contacted by a wonderful property owner on the west side that we were put at ease.
For the first time in our search for home, after viewing nearly 40 rentals, we were not treated with suspicion or prejudice, but warmly welcomed as Iowa City denizens and respectable renters. We were greeted with trust and sent a lease in the mail. How refreshing to at last find a landlord who saw past our age disparity and embraced a friendly, healthy and considerate couple. She personifies what Iowa City landlords should be.
John Cochran lives and works in Iowa City, and has been an Iowa boy all his life.