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Study finds real estate agencies regularly discriminate in rental market

17:06 10/09/2019

Discrimination is alive and well in the Brussels rental market. According to a large-scale study carried out by VUB researcher Pieter-Paul Verhaeghe, Brussels landlords are particularly reluctant to rent to single men with a foreign-sounding name and to people with mental disabilities.

Verhaeghe and the university’s Interface Demography research group made more than 5,500 individual contacts via real estate platforms Immoweb and Zimmo from January to July of this year. The group tested the responses on four grounds: ethnic origin, disability, source of income and the makeup of the family. The family test was split up into gender and ethnic origin subcategories.

The tests involved two candidates making contact about a specific rental property that was advertised. Both candidates were the same in three categories and differed in the fourth. When it comes to people with a mental disability looking to live independently, the study used someone who posed as the person’s guardian.

The test then recorded whether the candidate was offered the opportunity to see the rental property. “Practical tests are a reliable and objective method to measure discriminatory behaviour,” says professor Verhaeghe. “Discrimination stays under the radar if you only rely on complaints from victims.”

Single bad, married … better

Discrimination in rental accommodation happened the most often against people with a mental disability, with 29% of responses differing from responses made to other candidates. After that came people receiving unemployment benefits, who were turned down 23% of the time.

Single men with names originating from Northern Africa were, finally, rejected one in five times compared to men with traditional Belgian names. There were major variances, however, when the makeup of the family came into play. “Far fewer North African couples or North African women faced the same level of discrimination,” said Verhaeghe.

The results suggest not only that landlords continue to set profiles for potential renters but that real estate agents are willing to screen potential renters to fulfil those demands.

The study is the second carried out by Verhaeghe and his team and shows no improvement on the study carried out two years ago. New legislation in Brussels, however, now allows authorities to carry out similar tests with real estate agents. “While many real estate agents will not need to undergo these practical tests,” said Verhaeghe, “it is obviously necessary for a minority of them who continue to discriminate.”

Photo: Siska Gremmelprez/BELGA

Written by Lisa Bradshaw