Ivan Kandráč: Roma seeking rentals are out of luck in the Czech Republic
If you live in an excluded locality in the Czech Republic and you want to move away from it, you will obviously seek a rental elsewhere. You will look for one in a classified advertisement, call the manager, personally view the property, sign the contract and move in.
That's the ideal state of affairs, at least. If you are a Romani man or woman, reality is different.
Romani people must prepare themselves to encounter prejudice. In some cases it is not even enough for a Romani person to have a college education or 10 years of employment at the same job.
Skin color absolutely predominates these interactions. Just a few days ago I saw an advertisement on the Bazos.cz website, no. 80239035, offering to lease a one- bedroom apartment in Přerov, for example.
The text of the advertisement specified the landlord's requirements, and I was very startled to see the condition "Please, Romani people should not call." So I called the contact person because I fulfil all of the other conditions described in the ad - except for that one.
From the perspective of the landlord, that condition is the essential one. After I described myself as employed with a college degree, I mentioned that I am Romani and asked whether that mattered.
The contact person reacted with these words: "Don't be angry, I don't want Roma there." I repeated that I am a college graduate working for X number of years at the same job and that I have the money to pay, in addition to the security deposit, several months' rent in advance.
I failed to convince the contact person to give me a chance. It was no joke.
I couldn't help but ask whether she had had any bad experiences with Romani people. Her answer to that was even better.
The lady - or rather, the voice on the other end of the line - who was apparently the owner of the apartment, said she had never rented to anybody Romani. However, she had heard from her acquaintances that they had experienced difficulties with Roma.
We didn't even get around to arranging a meeting where the landlord could take a look at me and see whether I am an obese guy who hangs out on the beach with a gold chain around my neck and a horde of children standing behind me. (Yes, I recently actually encountered a photo of a Romani man from Romania like that which the Czech Nazi scene loves to publish and republish).
We could have discussed why that was. However, to do so would basically have been useless, because this property owner had her mind made up.
The person who, just a tenth of a second before, had appeared to be an ideal tenant was suddenly a harmful one. What is harmful must be destroyed, of course.
The close of the phone call was also "excellent" - the lady declared that she has so many people interested in her apartment that she can pick and choose her tenant. Certainly she can.
It is her apartment and her right to lease it. I do not know where the right of a prospective not to be discriminated against lies in this case, however.
In short, it is simply a fact that this was discrimination. I ask myself, in that case, what it would be like to hide my ethnicity during such interactions.
I would probably come away from a meeting on that basis feeling humiliated. That would be the best-case scenario.
I ask myself why the discussion here is still about the integration of Romani people into the majority society when majority-society real estate agents still impose so many barriers on those Romani people who want to live respectably outside of excluded localities. In the town of Přerov, for example, it is almost impossible for a Romani person to live anywhere else than "among his own".
It is exactly on such a basis that these excluded localities arise, and ultimately the Romani people are the ones labeled as the "socially inadaptable". That label implies a great deal that people would otherwise never say out loud.
Was this a unique case? No... from my perspective this is standard behavior here.
This case confirms not just my current experience but also the experiences of many of my acquaintances or family members. Society considers us a priori to be parasites who just take advantage of the welfare system.
It is difficult to convince people otherwise. The representatives elected by the citizens know about this problem, of course.
Nobody wants to aid us Roma with solving this problem, though. It's not popular, and such a person would be going against majority opinion, which in the Czech Republic does not get you very far.
It might aid non-Roma to comprehend the situation if they could somehow become Romani, just for a couple of days. That way they would get a taste of what life is like for us and see how much they like it.
TRANSCRIPT OF THE TELEPHONE CALL
Q: Hello, I'd like to ask if the sublet is still available?
A: I have it available as of 1 January.
Q: Aha, so I'm in luck. I would just like to please ask you if it's a long-term contract or just a temporary one?
A: No, no, no... I prefer somebody long-term, because just now I had rather a lot of turnover.
Q: I understand there is a deposit, because I have money for that... It would not be a problem.
A: It's all written in the ad, the deposit is CZK 10 000 [EUR 387]
Q: I am employed, I have a college education, but I'm Romani. Does that matter, or not?
A: Don't be angry, I don't want Roma there.
Q: Can I ask why?
A: I do not have good experience with that.
Q: You and I do not know each other, though, you do not have any experience of me.
A: I know, but I just don't want any. I am not saying you are bad, but I don't want any.
Q: I have been working for a firm for 10 years, I have a college education, and just because I'm a Romani guy, it seems a bit...
A: I believe that I have so many people interested that I can pick and choose.
Q: I understand that, but you know, just because I'm a Romani guy you aren't giving me a chance?
A: I know, you probably have problems with that, we were also looking for housing, we're a young working family, we are employed and decent, but we have three children and that is also a problem.
Q: I am also employed, I am studying, and I cannot find an aparment because you have written in this ad that Romani people shouldn't call you, so I thought that we could reach an agreement, since I am studying and working...
A: I could believe you, but it's not so much about me as it is about the neighbors, for example. There are decent people there, most of them are older...
Q: Are you saying Romani people are not decent?
A: I do not know many decent ones, to be sincere.
Q: Have you already rented to somebody like that?
A: Not me, but many of my acquaintances who lease apartments have had some experience with them, and not a good one. Mainly they also lived in that building and maybe even still live there...
Q: Even if I were to give you, for example, three months' rent in advance it would still be a problem?
A: Not a problem, but I don't know what to say to you. It's just not what I want.
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