Czech daily tests real estate agents' discrimination of Roma - 4 out of 5 fail
If you're looking for housing from real estate agents in the Czech town of Plzeň, you are unlikely to encounter any problems whatsoever. One thing, however, basically must be kept secret - you mustn't be Romani.
The reason is clear: Most landlords do not want Romani tenants. The Czech daily Deník has confirmed this with a recent test.
The newspaper contacted brokers from five real estate agencies in Plzeň and tested whether they would pass along the same available properties to any prospective tenant irrespective of their skin color. First a Romani man, Mr Žiga, called the companies selected for testing about a specfic property, and then a non-Romani editor with Deník called to feign interest in the same apartment; in four out of five cases the Romani caller was immediately rejected while the non-Romani editor was not rejected once.
"Hello, I've seen online that you're leasing a two-bedroom apartment in Východní předměstí, Ořechová, could you please tell me whether it's still available?" Mr Žiga, a Romani resident of Plzeň, starts the first phone call. "It's still available for now," says the person on the other end of the line.
"We are two adults and one 16-year-old boy, would it be possible for us to lease it?" the Romani caller specifies. The broker then informs him of the price.
The turning point comes when Žiga reveals his Romani ethnicity: "Just one more question - I'm Gypsy, is that all right?" The broker then explains it is not: "I believe that will bother the landlord, because he said they don't have good experiences in that building [with Romani tenants]."
Mr Žiga, of course, does not give up and continues the conversation. He does his best to convince the broker, arguing that he can provide proof that both he and his wife are employed and have no criminal record.
"... the only thing we could try would be a reference from your previous landlord, the place you've been living until now," the broker says. Even though Žiga promises to provide a good reference, the end of the conversation is not very optimistic: "... I can make this offer [to the owner], but I don't know whether he will reject it," the broker says.
Next the conversation is repeated with the non-Romani editor expressing interest in the same apartment. Everything goes smoothly, the place is free, and there are no conditions.
"I'd just like to know, who would you be accommodating there and how many people?" the broker asks. The non-Romani caller is then invited to see the property immediately.
The scenario of the next conversation is even more direct. Žiga calls a second real estate agency and introduces himself.
The broker interrupts him, asking: "Are you Romani?" "We are Romani," the Plzeň resident acknowledges.
"Well the owner doesn't want them," the real estate employee says. Žiga asks why, but only gets a perfunctory answer from the agent - "I must respect the owner's wishes."
The non-Romani Deník editor then calls about the same property. The conversation takes place very similarly to the preceding one.
"Are there any conditions?" the editor asks. "Conditions - I don't understand what kind you're asking about. The only thing the owner wants is for a decent family to be there who pays and is satisfied to live there," the broker says.
The editor assures her that won't be a problem. She is then invited to see the property immediately.
The owner doesn't want big dogs or Roma
Žiga will try his luck and fail a third time because of his skin color. "That will probably be a problem. I have the feeling we have already spoken together," the real estate agent says, referring to a previous contact.
"That was about 14 days ago, ma'am, I'm calling all the time, I don't even know who I'm calling anymore, don't be angry, I'm just annoyed about this. You say I don't have a chance at this apartment, right?" the Romani resident of Plzeň asks again.
"I can't offer you a single one... I'm afraid it will go this way for you everywhere else," the agent tells the Romani caller. She also believes it's useless for him to provide documentation of his bona fides.
What kind of an opportunity awaits the non-Romani editor when she calls this third agent? All indications are that there is nothing to prevent her viewing that property immediately.
"The owner doesn't want Roma. I'm telling you this in advance because they have called him twice already about this apartment. That's about all. He also wouldn't want a big dog," the agent says.
Property is taken, no other available - for a Romani tenant
Žiga also receives little hope on his fourth try. The property he has chosen is already taken and he is told it would be ideal to look online for another - the agent doesn't have anything else to offer the Romani man.
The non-Romani reporter gets the same information - the apartment is not available. Nevertheless, the agent willingly tells her that another opportunity is available and that it will soon be online.
Good news for the prospective Romani tenant doesn't come until the fifth and final call. Žiga is expecting to be rejected when he reveals his ethnicity.
"It doesn't bother me, all money smells good to me," the last agent says. Even though owners can be found advertising through them who will not agree to lease to Romani tenants, some opportunity will evidently be found.
The company's conversation with the [non-Romani] editor does not differ significantly from the previous call. A property can be found for her.
Real estate agents are not making mistakes, legally everything is in order
According to lawyers, of course, the behavior of the real estate agents described above does not break the law. "Once they cover themselves by stating that these are the owner's wishes, they are protected, in a way," said attorney Zdeněk Veber.
Many Romani clients who have experienced similar experiences to those of Mr Žiga visit the Plzeň branch of the People in Need (Člověk v tísni) NGO for assistance. "This is a common practice. When Romani people contact real estate agents, they inform them of their ethnicity up front," said Vlastimila Festingerová, a social worker with the organization.
Another alternative for Romani tenants is to apply for a municipally-owned apartment, but they must undergo screening. "There are approximately 3 300 apartments. Roughly half of them are standard. The others are of lower quality, one example is the building on Jateční Street where there was an explosion on Tuesday," said Deputy Mayor Miloslav Šimák, who is in charge of property admnistration for the town and transportation.
If Romani tenants fail to "get" a municipally-owned apartment, they often end up in residential hotels. That is not an ideal solution because of the environments of such facilities, which very often charge high rents.
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