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Tests to prove discrimination in property letting confirmed as legally valid

Illustration picture shows a for rent sign in the window of a real estate agency in Brussels. (BELGA PHOTO SISKA GREMMELPREZ)
11:36 06/10/2020

The Brussels Court of Appeal has confirmed the validity of "situation tests" and telephone records used to prove housing discrimination, Belgium’s anti-discrimination agency Unia has announced. The Court of Appeal decision follows a first judgment to this effect by the Nivelles Court of First Instance.

A situation test is used to compare the applications of two people interested in renting a home, whose profile is similar except for their country of origin. The court had to rule on the validity of this procedure, used in this case by a Belgian of African origin.

The person was interested in renting a property, but the real estate agency had informed him by text message that the apartment was already rented. However, the advertisement for the property remained online, and the man then carried out a “situation test”, with the support of an association who contacted the real estate agency to enquire about its availability, explained Unia. As a result, the real estate agency told the "test person" that the apartment was available and told the African-accented candidate the opposite.

The Brussels Court of Appeal ruled that telephone records could be used to prove housing discrimination. The real estate agency was ordered to pay €1,300 in compensation to the aggrieved candidate tenant. "The agency will also have to pay €500 each time it discriminates against an individual in connection with this or any other accommodation," Unia added. A summary of the court decision must also be published at the premises of the agency, as well as in the periodical review of the Professional Institute of Estate Agents (IPI).

“Some candidate tenants, particularly because of their origin or the colour of their skin, have great difficulty in renting accommodation, or even being able to visit it. And it is up to them to prove that they have been discriminated against, which is not always obvious. 'Situation tests' can help them,” said Patrick Charlier, director of Unia. The validation of telephone records is considered a "great step forward" in upholding the right to housing, enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, he added.

Written by Nick Amies