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Czech Republic: Landlord recorded refusing to rent apartment to Roma

17.9.2017 20:10
A building in Prague's Vysočany quarter owned by the A Property company, 2017. (PHOTO: Archive)
A building in Prague's Vysočany quarter owned by the A Property company, 2017. (PHOTO: Archive)

The practice of some property owners treating prospective Romani tenants arbitrarily has been documented by news server more than once. This past July we reported on the CEO of the A Property firm, Ondřej Opletal, who made the illegal decision to evict Nikola Holubová, a Romani mother of three, onto the street from one day to the next in Prague.

Now we have another testimony about the practices of the Opletal brothers, who represent A Property as CEO and owner, respectively. Our editors have recently been contacted by Mr Jaroslav Suchý, who was interested in renting accommodation in a building owned by A Property but who was told on the telephone that the owner does not rent apartment units to Romani people.

Suchý has been reported on by the Czech media in the past, first for having managed to touch US President Barack Obama's head during a public appearance in Prague, then for winning a legal dispute with the tabloid Parlamentní listy. He noticed A Property's advertisement for an apartment in the Vysočany quarter published to the online classified advertising website on 21 August.

Because he himself is Romani and has had several direct experiences of discrimination when seeking housing, Suchý decided to prepare for being rejected on the basis of his ethnicity by recording the telephone conversation. News server has reviewed that recording.

"I don't need to rent to Roma"

The audio recording captures a conversation between Jan Opletal and Suchý in which they first discuss practical details of a potential lease. When Suchý asks whether it would be possible for the apartment to be rented to a Romani family, his interlocutor answers "No, because I don't need that" and complains that "in 50 % of cases it ends up with me shouting at them for the rent".

When Suchý asks whether he personally might be able to rent the unit, he first is promised that it would be possible, provided the owner "likes" him personally. After clarifying that Mr Suchý is also Romani, Jan Opletal definitively rejects him, adding that if he were to rent to him, prospective non-Romani tenants would not be interested in renting other units because "there are already too many of those gypsies residing here".

The call ends with the owner quickly saying goodbye and hanging up. Suchý claims that he did not intend to publicize the case at first and instead wanted to reach an out-of-court settlement with A Property.

"After both brothers thoroughly ignored me, I decided that I care about warning society of their behavior," he told news server, adding that currently he is filing suit with the Prague 5 District Court against A Property for discriminating against him. News server then managed to reach Ondřej Opletal, CEO of A Property and brother of Jan Opletal, by calling the telephone number listed in the published contact information for A Property.

Ondřej Opletal was involved in escalating the negotiations with the former tenant whom he evicted from one day to the next, an interaction during which his brother Jan was also present. On the phone, Ondřej Opletal told news server that he did not know anything about his brother Jan's phone call with Mr Suchý.

The CEO emphasized more than once that he did not want the case to be publicized and that he hoped "the editors would respect that". He also told that he has filed a criminal report against Suchý alleging that he was being stalked by him with phone calls as often as "10 times a day".

Is it ROMEA's fault?

In the recording made by Mr Suchý, Jan Opletal also mentions the "ROMEA agency", an employee of which he says "yelled at me not to rent to Roma because that just makes it worse". We asked Jitka Votavová, an employee of ROMEA, o.p.s. who came into contact with Jan Opletal in connection with the eviction of Ms Holubová, whether in her view his allegations are truthful.

"The way Opletal has described our meeting in his telephone call with Mr Suchý does not correspond to how it actually transpired," Votavová said. "We conversed in front of the building where A Property rents apartment units and he did his best to convince me that it was precisely because our organization was intervening in Ms Holubová's case that he would never sign another contract with a Romani tenant again. I consider that to be an alibi. Moreover, in my opinion, if the civil rights of renters are going to be violated the same way as hers were, and if rental contracts will be so grossly violated by the company's CEO, then prospective tenants will be fortunate not to become clients of that company."

Whom does the Antidiscrimination Act serve in the Czech Republic?

The legislation of situations in which a prospective tenant of a certain ethnicity is a priori excluded from the opportunity to seek rental housing is covered by the Antidiscrimination Act, the relevant passages of which (Section 1 paragraph 1 letter j) establish that "if the owner of a property offered to the public communicates through an agent (a real estate broker) that he or she does not want the other party to the contract to be of a certain ethnicity, that is discrimination in the form of instruction (Section 4 paragraph 5)." Specific disputes are dealt with by suing, but for many low-income victims of discrimination in access to housing it is frequently difficult if not directly impossible for them to arrange for costly legal aid, and many of them rely on the limited degree of assistance that can be provided by nonprofit organizations.

adg, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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