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August 10, 2022



Alena Gronzíková: Czech landlords will not rent to Roma even with good references and steady incomes

28.1.2021 13:56
In the spring of 2020, Irena sewed facemasks for others for free, now she has no chance of renting an apartment... because she is a Romani woman. (PHOTO:  Personal archive of Alena Gronzíková)
In the spring of 2020, Irena sewed facemasks for others for free, now she has no chance of renting an apartment... because she is a Romani woman. (PHOTO: Personal archive of Alena Gronzíková)

When Irena first mentioned to me that she would have to find new housing in Břeclav because the owner of the apartment she is currently renting wants to move back in there, I know it would not be easy for her to find and appropriate place for herself and her two children. I seriously never expected it would become such a hard nut to crack, though.

Irena's life was never a bed of roses, but she has worked her way out of her difficulties, has found her place in society, and seems to be working herself to death even though she has young children. At the height of the state of emergency, when the first wave of the novel coronavirus crisis came here, she was one of those who sewed homemade facemasks for those who needed them on the front lines, as well as for her neighbors, friends, and acquaintances living in the area.  

Today she is on the edge of exhaustion because she has not managed to find new housing for her family even though she has a steady income, has saved up for a deposit, and has good references from her current landlord that she is a reliable tenant and meets all the requirements for continuing to lead the life of a regular citizen, if society permits. What is her biggest problem, then? 

Irena's family is Romani. All she has to do is mention her surname on the telephone and her dreams of a better future are dashed.   

"Don't be angry, but we don't take Roma, we've had bad experiences with them, the owner of the apartment doesn't want it..." For an idea of what it is like to live with the label "Rom", listen to Irena herself tell you the story of her personal experience.

Irena: Might I end up on the street with my children just because I am a Romani woman?

I've decided to share my experiences with the real estate agencies and brokers here with you all. 

For two months I have been looking for a property to rent for myself and my two children. I told myself it would be easy - we have money saved, so I wouldn't worry about it much. Whenever I had time, I looked for rentals on the Internet and began calling. 

On the very first phone call, the broker asked my surname. I told her, and all she said was:  "You're probably Romani, right?"

I answered:  "...yes, I am, is that a probem?"

"Yes, it is, the owner of the unit doesn't want to rent to any of our Romani fellow citizens!" She hung up. I was never able to get her to answer at that number again.

I began to do more looking and to gather classified ads offering rentals. I called more and more, I always introduced myself politely and the moment I said I am Romani, the person on the other end of the line would hang up - silence. Call over.

It began to anger me, I began to feel sorry about it, and I asked myself:  Why? 

My boyfriend and I work, we're a respectable family, we have no debt, I pay everything on time, I make an honest living, but in the end my children and I may end up on the street just because I'm a Romani woman who never had a chance at a better life? It's sad... Until right now I never believed something like this actually goes on. There's nothing like personal experience.

A couple of days later I went "to the city" to ask to rent a municipally-owned unit. They sold me a bill of goods about there being no units available and many other people on the waiting list, and I left angry.  

I can't even count how many rentals I have called, how many ads I have answered or written to, but I've been rejected everywhere. In most cases it was because of my origin.

Today the real estate agents don't even answer when I call, they don't answer my e-mails, they don't even respond to text messages. 

Finally there was some hope and, after a long time, I saw light at the end of the tunnel and at least a small chance of finding appropriate housing. One evening I saw an ad for a property offered directly by the owner, without a real estate agency, and I contacted him. He responded to my message and called me back right away. I described my personal experiences with real estate brokers. He didn't have any problem with my being Romani, he said I seemed like an appropriate candidate to him. He mentioned having Romani friends, but there was just one problem. That would be his neighbors, who all cooperatively own the building, and who just don't want Roma there. 

I'm still looking in vain for a place to rent. It's a vicious circle. What is this country we're living in? Why does the majority society continue to tar us all with the same brush? Aren't there also families among the non-Roma who cause their landlords no small amount of damage - and maybe even to a greater extent?

Let us come among you, don't tar us all with the same brush or force us to all live in the same locality if we're meant to live together here in these neighborhoods in the same city. Romani people also want to work, to live in dignified housing, to get an education and to be beneficial to their town and to all of society. 

If you want Romani people to integrate, don't disparage their culture, we could learn a lot from each other in many respects, don't label us without having experienced us personally. One more thing - has it ever occurred to you that even if everybody were to train their sights on somebody he still might not want to live the same kind of life as his neighbor? 

Alena Gronzíková, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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