Eviction of Elderly Widow Prompts State Investigation of Town’s Vice-Mayor

Hanford, CA—The family of an elderly widow was shocked when she was evicted from her longtime apartment earlier this year. They were even more outraged when the owner cited her religious expression and age as reasons for the eviction. Now, a State investigation is underway.

Diana Martin had been living at the Windgate Village Apartments in Hanford for nearly 14 years when she received a distressing visit from owner John Draxler in early February of this year. Draxler also serves as the city’s vice-mayor. He informed Martin that she was being evicted.

Martin still had months remaining on her year-to-year lease, and her rent was fully paid. But Draxler cited her religious activities—sharing her faith and offering to pray for people—as reasons why she must find a new home. Draxler knew Martin was recovering from strokes and a heart attack. When she began to cry, protesting that it was winter and she had no children living nearby, he responded that was not his problem.

In a follow-up conversation with Martin’s son, Draxler repeated the religious basis for his decision and also cited her age. Martin was 85 years old at the time and is now 86. She had originally moved to Windgate Village because it was designed and marketed as senior living. Since Draxler bought the complex a few years ago, he has brought in younger renters and is now removing older tenants. For many years now, Martin notes that the complex has failed to offer activities or amenities consistent with its original designation as a senior facility.

Martin reluctantly complied and moved out of her home with the assistance of family. They then heard about Pacific Justice Institute (PJI) and a similar battle to prevent the eviction of a Bible study leader and great-grandmother from the Veterans Home of California.

PJI attorneys began representing Martin and were astonished by what they found. Besides the discriminatory reasons offered for the eviction, the notice given to Martin was clearly defective as to its timing. PJI fired off a legal demand letter for Martin. While Draxler initially seemed eager to settle and keep the matter quiet, talks stalled. PJI has now initiated a formal charge of discrimination with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.

Matthew McReynolds, the PJI attorney who has been representing Martin, commented, “What happened to our client, Diana Martin, was wrong on many levels. 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. “Defending yourself against a management bully like this is not grounds for an eviction, it’s just common sense,” noted McReynolds. “I hope all of us could be described as combative if anyone tried to treat our mothers, grandmothers, or great-grandmothers this way.”