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Best Reality, Stars reality corporation s.r.o., DůmRealit.cz, Broker´s Team, CENTURY 21 Finem caught on tape rejecting Roma tenants in Czech Republic, only CENTURY 21 apologizes

17.7.2020 11:41
Online classified ads for apartment rentals in the Czech Republic. (2020)
Online classified ads for apartment rentals in the Czech Republic. (2020)

For the last two years a 28-year-old man from the Czech town of Kralupy nad Vltavou has been doing his best to find standard rental housing for himself, his girlfriend and their two-year-old, but whether he answers private classified ads or looks for properties on offer through real estate agents, he always gets the same response: We do not rent to Roma. Because of these repeated experiences, the man decided to record his meetings with the brokers.

His desperate housing search came full circle when an employee of the Housing Department at the Kralupy nad Vltavou local authority told him there was no municipally-owned apartment available for his family through the town, adding that he should try contacting a real estate agent. "Currently we are living with my father in a two-room apartment, where my 11-year-old sister also lives with us," he explained to news server Romea.cz.

"There are too many of us for such a small apartment, and because of that my girlfriend has to spend time at her parents' with our child occasionally. It's complicated and we would like to have our own private home," he said.

After approaching the individual owners advertising apartments for rent proved useless, the man turned for aid to all of the real estate offices with branches in Kralupy nad Vltavou that he could find, specifically the firms of Best Reality, Stars reality corporation s.r.o., DůmRealit.cz, Broker´s Team and CENTURY 21 Finem. When, during his in-person meetings and phone calls with each agency he repeatedly learned that their clients expressly refuse Romani applicants, he began to record some of the meetings.

"I am not obligated to take you to that apartment"

"Oh, I apologize, the owner doesn't want that," Lubomír Mareš of Best Reality is captured saying in a recording of a phone call when learning that the family looking to rent housing is Romani. In the case of Stars reality corporation, the rejection comes from broker Jiří Müller.

"The owner wants two people maximum, no pets, she doesn't want Romani people, she wants all of the people living there to be working. Those are her requirements," the recording of Müller's dry recounting of the rental terms reveals.

We also learn from the recording that the owner does not want foreign nationals. "Unfortunately I cannot be of service to you here, I'm not the owner," the broker also says.

When the prospective tenant asks Müller about a different property, he answers with amusement that the owner of that property is "even stricter". As for the Broker´s Team company, it was agent Klára Vondrová who informed the prospective tenant that her client refuses to rent to Romani people.

"I'm just asking - the owner doesn't want Roma," the woman's voice says in the recording. When the prospective tenant does his best to persuade Vondrová to give him a chance, explaining that he is employed and can document everything, she doesn't budge.

"I can't do anything about this, I have to ask the owners. I'd like to help you but it's not up to me," she is recorded as saying. The same story unfolds during an in-person meeting with Lucie Kytková of DůmRealit.cz.

The prospective tenant had found out from her during a previous meeting that one of the landlords they represent refuses to rent to Roma. "All I have is the Zátiší property. However, that's the same owner [who doesn't want Roma]," the broker is recorded as saying.

"I know this is terribly difficult. [...] I don't know what to say to you. It's not up to us, it's up to the owner," Kytková says, "I'm telling you straight up - I am not obligated to take you to that apartment."

Ivana Richterová of CENTURY 21 Finem is recorded defending her rejection of the Romani applicant, saying that apartment owners are to blame for having asked her to reject Romani applicants. "We told you, it's complicated. The owners pay us to find them other people. [...] I really apologize, I know you, you've been coming here ... If I were to post an advertisement tomorrow for another new apartment and you were to call me, I couldn't take you there. The owners pay me and say 'I'm giving it to you so you will sort through the people, and we want this kind of tenant,' and I unfortunately have to respect that," she is recorded as saying in person.

Richterová then deters the Romani man from attempting to contact her again. "You'll be writing to us and calling in vain, because I actually cannot help you. Once I know that an owner is saying 'Yeah, I'll rent to anybody', I'll pick up the phone and the first person whom I will call will be you," she is recorded as saying.

Hopelessness, your name is real estate agent

"I work for a business in Kralupy nad Vltavou that produces polystyrene, we have money saved up, we have no debts - but it's absolutely useless. I've been working since the age of 19. I could pay rent six months in advance, but nobody is interested in that. Everywhere we go we are refused just because we are Romani," the prospective tenant told Romea.cz.

For the 28-year-old and his family, the situation is hopeless. "Because of my job I am bound to Kralupy. Because of that, I can't look for housing in another town. When I see how this all works, then leaving my job to look for housing elsewhere would mean the absolute end," he concludes.

News server Romea.cz contacted all of the real estate agents mentioned above and asked them to express their perspective on this violation of the Antidiscrimination Act and on their own ethical codes of conduct for working as real estate brokers. Only one, CENTURY 21 Czech Republic, apologized for the behavior of their broker and faced up to the fact that the law had been broken.

CENTURY 21 Czech Republic Operations Director Tomáš Jelínek has sent news server Romea.cz the following statement:  "Any form of discrimination is unacceptable to the CENTURY 21 network of real estate agents and is incompatible with the firm's values, which are anchored, among other things, in our brokers' code of ethical conduct. In the case of Ms Richterová, unfortunately a mistake was made. Even if the owner of the apartment wanted to exclude a group of tenants on the basis of their ethnic origin, religion or sex, for example, we cannot, as CENTURY 21, accede to that. In accordance with our rules we have, therefore, immediately initiated a review and disciplinary proceedings with Ms Richterová that can end with a fine of as much as CZK 50 000 [EUR 1 875]. We will inform the client of the outcome of that proceedings. At the same time we apologize to him for the unprofessional approach of this broker. In her defense, we must say that during the entire course of her 10-year career in our network, not a single complaint has been filed against her, and she is aware of the mistake she has made. This case is prompting us to again educate our brokers and to warn them of the unacceptability of such behavior, although we already emphasize this to them in all our trainings."

The other real estate agents either refused to communicate with Romea.cz or never sent their promised answers to our questions and did not answer the phone again when we called. Best Reality's broker Lubomír Mareš even threatened to sue news server Romea.cz if we were to publish this information.

Kralupy nad Vltavou's advice: Try the agencies

"I attempted to ask at the town hall, more than once, if it would be possible for me to rent a municipally-owned apartment. The last time I was there, the staffer in the Housing Department said she had no apartments available and that I should try real estate agencies or a charity," the prospective Romani tenant told news server Romea.cz.

The story of this Romani family's attempts to find housing in Kralupy nad Vltavou has thereby attained a Kafkaeseque, tragicomic flavor. News server Romea.cz attempted to get a statement about the issue from the mayor.

Vice-Mayor Vojtěch Pohl, who is in charge of the housing issue, sent us this response: "The town of Kralupy nad Vltavou owns 144 apartment units. They are, according to the rules that have been adopted, rented to tenants for social reasons or to employees of the local authority. In both cases, specific, pre-established rules apply to the selection of the tenants. Based on your description of the situation, I am of the opinion that Mr [...] does not qualify for being rented such an apartment. When the town rents an apartment for social reasons, it does its best to aid people whose financial capacities do not facilitate their securing housing on their own. The customary social tenants of municipally-owned apartments are single-parent households, self-employed people, people on disability, and last but not least, also Romani people in difficult financial situations. Currently all 144 apartments owned by the town are occupied, and we have a waiting list, and to be put on the waiting list one must meet all the conditions for eligibility. If we had an opportunity to aid Mr [...] with finding a rental, then we would be glad to take advantage of it, but unfortunately the town has no way to affect the behavior of private real estate agencies or the private owners of apartments."

Kralupy nad Vltavou municipality, therefore, has no aid to offer. Their only advice for this person, who was born in Kralupy nad Vltavou, and for his family is to continue to experience the humiliating, illegal treatment currently on offer from real estate agencies and private apartment owners.

What did the Romani native of Kralupy nad Vltavou make of this statement from his home town? "I know many people who are permanently employed and financially set, but despite that, they rent municipally-owned apartments. I don't understand it," he told Romea.cz.

Is the law unenforceable?

Adam Fialík, a representative of the Platform for Social Housing, which has been advocating for the adoption of a law on social housing for years,  has provided news server Romea.cz this assessment of the situation: "From our members we know that for a Romani family, even arranging for just a viewing of an apartment is one of the most difficult barriers to overcome, and people turn to them for aid with overcoming that obstacle. This example clearly documents the problem. This gentleman is actively addressing his situation, repeatedly contacting real estate agencies, has money saved, and despite that, he cannot find normal housing for his family. The situation captured by those recordings is, unfortunately, the sad reality of many Romani people all over the Czech Republic. They have no other option but to take advantage of different forms of substandard housing (frequently predatory ones), such as residential hotels or shelters, which does nothing to resolve their situations. Naturally, children bear the worst impacts of any such situation. According to our analyses of exclusion from housing, more than 20 000 children were living in substandard conditions in 2018 here. This situation clearly demonstrates the need for social housing legislation. The Antidiscrimination Act has been in effect in the Czech Republic since 2009, but despite that, it is not managing to prevent such situations. It is thus necessary to create a system that facilitates normal housing for all."

In terms of the law, addressing a situation in which a member of a certain ethnicity is a priori excluded from opportunities to apply for rental housing is arranged for by the Antidiscrimination Act. Its relevant section sates that "if the owner of real estate offered to the public [Section 1 paragraph 1 letter j Antidiscrimination Act] tells an agent (real estate broker) that he or she does not want the other contracting party to be a person of a certain ethnicity, then discrimination has been committed in the form of guidance to discriminate (section 4 paragraph 5 Antidiscrimination Act)."

It is not, therefore, possible for real estate agents to justify discriminatory behavior by alleging that their client wishes it. By doing so, they themselves commit illegal activity.

Hope for redress in this area in the Czech Republic will not be forthcoming, for example, from the Office of the Public Defender of Rights, which is currently led by Stanislav Křeček. He has categorically rejected the idea that Romani people have been subjected to discriminatory practices in this country.

In his recently published commentary for the daily Právo on 9 July 2020, for example, the ombudsman claimed to find it unbelievable that "The legal position of Romani people is, without exception, absolutely equal, but despite that, day in and day out, we hear about their discrimination at home and abroad." He made it clear in that commentary what solution he would offer to the young Romani man from Kralupy nad Vltavou: "Honor to the exceptions, but if you are alleging that nobody wants to employ you, which don't you employ yourself? Why don't you establish firms that would contribute, for example, to beautifying the housing in excluded localities? Does nobody want to rent you an apartment? Why don't you build your own homes and apartments like thousands of other non-Romani cooperative owners in our country?"

It is, therefore, absolutely uncertain whether justice can be enforced here, as specific disputes of this kind are addressed through civil complaints. Those proceedings frequently require not just significant financing to undertake, but involve a drain on the energy and time of those victimized by these practices.

Many of these people, therefore, have no choice but to rely on the significantly limited degree of aid that nonprofit organizations are able to provide them. They cannot expect to receive it from the current Public Defender of Rights.

voj, ryz, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Diskriminace, Housing, human rights, intolerance



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