Discrimination in rental market drops in Ghent

Summary

Following a three year investigation into discriminatory practices in Ghent’s rental market, estate agents have adapted their policies and responded to training

First phase succesful

Housing discrimination in Ghent has been significantly cut over the past three years thanks to a programme of monitoring and training in the private rental market. Problems still remain, however, and two cases have been referred on for further action.

City authorities started testing discrimination in the rental sector in 2015. This was done by sending similar emails to estate agencies asking if a particular property was still available and requesting an appointment to view. Both emails would be in correct Dutch and indicate a similar level of income, but one would be signed with a typical Flemish name and one with a name of Turkish or Arabic origin.

In 2015, the Flemish name got a better response in 26% of cases. When the test was repeated at the end of 2017, the level of discrimination had dropped to 14%, but 12 of the 86 estate agents active in Ghent still showed a significant pattern of discrimination.

These agencies were invited to an interview with Unia, the inter-federal centre for equal opportunities, where their legal responsibilities were explained. Meanwhile, all 86 agencies were invited to participate in a training on the dividing line between professional selection and discrimination. Agents were also taught techniques for dealing with discriminatory requests from their landlord clients.

Two files passed on to Unia

Subsequent tests found that significant patterns of discrimination had disappeared from all 12 agencies, although two remained in what the city describes as a “gray zone”, where people with a Flemish name seemed to have a better chance of viewing properties. Their files are now being considered by Unia and the Beroepsinstituut voor Vastgoedmakelaars, the professional association for estate agencies.

“After three years of testing, the professional rental market is virtually free of discrimination in terms of the first phase of the rental process: getting an appointment to view,” said Resul Tapmaz, the city councillor responsible for equal opportunities. “Everyone in Ghent now has at least the opportunity to visit a property and introduce themselves, regardless of his or her background.”

However the city is aware that discrimination may still take place later in the rental process, such as during visits or when a final selection is made. This also needs to be investigated and addressed, it said.