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Discrimination in the housing market is a widespread problem.

According to a representative survey commissioned by the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency, approximately 15 per cent of all respondents who had been looking for a flat within the last ten years, had experienced discrimination on the grounds of race, ethnicity or origin.

This affects people with a migrant background in particular. According to the survey, one in three persons with a migrant background looking for a flat (35 per cent) reported racial discrimination. Often, a foreign-sounding name is enough to not be invited to a flat viewing. Sadly enough, openly racist flat advertisements also are still a part of everyday life. However, discrimination in the housing market is prohibited by law. People who are affected should get informed about their legal situation and should address instances of discrimination wherever it is possible.

A significant majority of those interviewed (83 per cent) are of the opinion that discrimination on the grounds of race, ethnicity or origin occurs rather frequently when looking for a flat in Germany. The housing market is therefore the area of life where most of those interviewed expect problems due to racial discrimination. Moreover, the respondents were asked about their personal opinion regarding immigrants as potential neighbours and tenants. Apparently, reservations about immigrants increase the further a situation reaches into the private sphere. For example, 29 per cent of those surveyed would be concerned or very concerned if a person who had immigrated to Germany moved into the neighbouring flat or house. 41 per cent of respondents have reservations about the idea of renting out a flat belonging to the interviewed person to an immigrant.

The Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency considers that several legal loopholes which encourage discrimination should be closed in order to prevent discrimination. Thus, the principle of non-discrimination in the General Act on Equal Treatment (AGG) does not apply, for instance, where a special “relationship of proximity or trust” is entered into, for example by using housing on the same real estate. Moreover, housing associations, for instance, are allowed to treat people looking for flats differently “with a view to creating and maintaining socially stable population structures and balanced settlement structures as well as balanced economic, social and cultural conditions”. Both exemptions have also been criticised by the UN Commission on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI).

“The exemptions not only entail the risk of abuse and can offer justifications for racial discrimination, but also, in our view, clearly violate European law and must be abolished”, said Bernhard Franke, Acting Head of the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency at the presentation of a legal opinion on the implementation of the EU Racial Equality Directive in the housing market.

Bernhard Franke was referring to a current legal opinion by jurists Prof. Thüsing and Dr. Vianden from Bonn. Among other things, the legal opinion proposes an amendment to the General Act on Equal Treatment (Section 19, Para. 5 General Act on Equal Treatment), in order to make it clear by law that high requirements must be made of a “special relationship of proximity or trust between the parties” if this is to lead to the protection of discrimination falling short of the protection of privacy.

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