Getting an apartment which they desire and can afford could be a big problem for Africans living in Germany because of discrimination. A study has now confirmed that indeed you may not even be called for viewing, the first step in the apartment-seeking process, if your name sounds non-German.
People with foreign sounding names are discriminated against when they are looking for an apartment in Germany, according to reports published on Thursday.
Investigative reporting done by German public broadcaster Bayerischer Rundfunk and news magazine Der Spiegel found that despite being of similar age and employment status, apartment-seekers with Turkish or Arabic names in 10 German cities were significantly less likely to be contacted by landlords to view a flat than applicants with German names.
A tough time for Ismail
The two media outlets sent over 20,000 fake inquiries to landlords in Germany. They used 14 fake identities – six German, two Arabic, two Turkish, two Polish and two Italian. A dozen of the applicants were aged 26-27 and split male and female, while two of the German ones were a 25-year-old German male student and a 42-year-old German male doctor.
Around 8,000 inquiries received responses, which were sorted into positive and negative response piles. The investigation examined only the first step of the apartment-seeking process and did not continue into personal interactions with landlords or apartment visits.
The findings boiled down to “Hanna” receiving considerably more invitations to look at an apartment than “Ismail” despite both applicants being in their late 20s and employed in similar fields.
Of the 10 cities reporters examined, Munich had the highest discrimination rate, with Frankfurt am Main second. The eastern German cities of Leipzig and Magdeburg had the lowest observed discrimination rate. They also found a discrepancy in gender, as the men with Arabic or Turkish names were much more likely to be discriminated against than women with such names.
‘A hard time on the real estate market’
Christine Lübers, head of Germany’s Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency (FADA), released a statement Thursday in response to the report. “Whoever has a name that doesn’t sound ‘German enough’ will have a hard time on the real estate market,” she said. “It shows not only in new studies, but also in field reports and complaints to the Anti-Discrimination Agency and other support centres for a long time.”
“The tighter the housing market, the greater the discrimination. We also see a trend of groups, nationalities or asylum seekers being excluded from the outset in residency listings,” the statement continued. “In principle, no one is allowed to deny an apartment viewing or a lease because of ethnic background or racial reasons, like the colour of one’s skin. The Equal Treatment Act applies in this case: the person seeking residence is entitled to compensation or damages.”
What can be done to stop this discrimination? Damian Groten of Before in München, a support and information centre for people confronted by racism and extremism, told German broadcaster ARD he believes real estate agents and providers need to be sensitized to the issue.
“On the landlord side, we would want serious complaint management – a complaint system that takes people who feel discriminated against in the rental market seriously and then act accordingly,” Groten said.
How affected can seek redress
The General Act on Equal Treatment (Allgemeine Gleichbehandlungsgesetz or AGG), enacted for the purpose of preventing or stopping discrimination on the grounds of race or ethnic origin, gender, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation in Germany, went into force in August 2006.
Despite the low number of people who have used the law to enforce their rights, the AGG has resulted in a number of precedent judgements.
In 2011, a court boldly applied the anti-discrimination law and held an estate management company guilty of discriminating against an African family in their search for a flat. The family had approached the company in Aachen that had advertised a vacant flat. The agent in charge simply told the family that she had had troubles with Africans in the past and would not rent the apartment to them.
The family thereafter approached the Aachen Office for Equal Treatment which sent another African to the same estate company to seek the same vacant flat. He was told also to his face that the company did not want an African tenant. The office now approached the estate agency officially and referred it to the anti-discrimination law and that its conduct was discriminatory and a contravention of the law. The company refused to change its decision.
With the financial support of the anti-discrimination NGO Living without Racism Foundation (Leben ohne Rassismus), the matter was then taken to court where the family sought compensation for the damage they suffered by virtue of the discrimination meted out to them.
The State High Court in Aachen dismissed the case, but the family appealed to the higher Upper High Court in Cologne, which reversed the judgement, holding the estate agency guilty of discrimination and liable to damages of 5,000 euros.
Sola Jolaoso with additional DW reporting