A National Guardsman who served in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay has sued a woman he tried to rent from, after she told him his war service and her peace activism presented a "conflict of interests" and suggested he seek housing elsewhere -- though the Dorchester landlady insists his veteran status "would not impede his chances to rent from us."
Sgt. Joel Morgan, 29, said the two-bedroom $1,220-a-month Savin Hill apartment that property owner Janice Roberts, 63, showed him in April was perfect. But he claims Roberts told him in an April 9 voicemail that renting to him would be a conflict, saying, "We are very adamant about our beliefs."
"It just is not going to be comfortable for us without a doubt. It probably would be better for you to look for a place that is a little bit less politically active and controversial," Roberts told Morgan, according to his complaint. The voicemail was played for the Herald during an interview with Morgan last week at the Boston office of his lawyer, Joseph L. Sulman.
"For her to do that to me, it was like a spit in the face," Morgan said. "For what we have gone through overseas, to come home to our country and have people ... discriminate against us. ... It made me extremely insecure about being a soldier."
Morgan filed suit last week in Suffolk Superior Court, accusing Roberts of violating a state law that prohibits landlords from refusing to rent to veterans.
"It's illegal," Sulman said, "but also just unconscionable. It's something any American should be embarrassed about."
Roberts told the Herald that Morgan was one of 30 people who inquired about the apartment. "We had to choose somebody," she said, declining to take further questions. But she authorized Sulman to release to the Herald a 16-page "response" she sent the lawyer dated May 23, in which she stated Morgan never filled out a rental application. Morgan said he took a rental form but decided not to return it after hearing her voicemail. She also cited questions about his ability to pay the rent, what roommates he would have, whether he had issues with a prior landlord, and whether he had been racially insensitive when he mentioned a noise complaint he had with his prior neighbors, who were black. Morgan denied any racist intent in the remark.
Roberts wrote she has belonged to a civil-rights group called Garden of Enlightenment since 2000, adding, "This bodes the question, 'Why would someone like Joel Morgan, who apparently fought so valiently (sic) in wars in which he believed, want to even choose to subject himself to renting an apartment from people -- like myself -- who were so vigorously seeking an end to the Iraq War??'
"There was never any mention to Morgan that his being a veteran would impede his chances to rent from us. If anything, he was a victim of U.S. greed, and for that, I feel much empathy."
A Milton native and divorced father of a 19-month-old son, Morgan said he served at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in 2003; as well as combat tours in Iraq in 2007 and 2008; and in Afghanistan last year.
Morgan said he is studying criminal justice at Quincy College and recently took the civil service exam, hoping to become a Boston firefighter.
"Almost every time I'm in uniform and I walk past a child, they salute," Morgan said, smiling.
His interaction with the landlady, he said, "didn't take away my pride of being a soldier for the United States. I'll hold onto that until I die."