Despatch from Stuttgart | International

Where non-white people are not welcome to rent homes

A sign reading ‘Welcome’ in multiple languages in an airdome in Berlin that was used as a temporary shelter for refugees in 2015.

A sign reading ‘Welcome’ in multiple languages in an airdome in Berlin that was used as a temporary shelter for refugees in 2015.   | Photo Credit: Getty Images

The housing market in this German city is loaded against foreigners, migrants and refugees

Srinivasa Prasad sounded both angry and sad as he talked about his experience of searching for an apartment in Stuttgart.

“A majority of renters were not interested in seeing me after they found out that I was not German. They even asked why I was not speaking their language,” said the Indian engineer, who recently moved from Hong Kong to Germany.

Mr. Prasad, an employee at a big German company, had only recently shifted to Stuttgart and wanted to settle down with his family. However, finding a proper apartment became a problem. Many landlords, and he contacted more than one hundred of them, did not want to rent apartments to non-white foreigners.

A lot of them did not hesitate to show their blatant racism towards Mr. Prasad and his family. “I will never ever rent my house to someone like you,” one person wrote in a message. “We do not rent to people who do not speak our language,” another renter messaged Mr. Prasad.

A common occurrence

Racism in the German housing market is not a new phenomenon. Finding a place to live has always been much more difficult for foreigners, migrants and refugees than for white Germans. This also includes Germans whose parents or grandparents have a migrant background.

“When I talked with the renters on phone, everything appeared to be fine. They invited me to come and visit their apartments. But when I arrived and they saw my black, curly hair, I felt immediately that their attitude had changed,” said Ömer Sarikaya (name changed), a student from Stuttgart University.

Mr. Sarikaya said most house-owners told him that they had found another tenant after they had met him. “In many cases, they were lying. I remember how I told a friend of mine to reach out to one renter after I received a negative reply from him. Surprisingly, the apartment [had become] free again,” he said.

In 2015, Germany’s Anti-discrimination Office had pointed out that discrimination, fuelled by racism, against minorities was regularly taking place in the housing market. In a report, the office had underlined the fact that prejudices were often shown in face-to-face talks. Additionally, those wearing obvious religious symbols, such as the Islamic hijab, were also at a disadvantage with it came to renting homes.

Mr. Sarikaya, who has a Turkish-Muslim background, remembered some of the questions he faced from landlords after they met him. “They asked me if my mother wore a scarf or how often she was praying daily. Some also asked me about my views on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan or if I was affiliated with radical extremist groups,” he said.

Mr. Prasad finally found an apartment owned by another migrant. “I did not have the feeling that anyone cared about my religious background. They just heard me or saw me and came to the conclusion that they would not give me their apartment. I doubt that this would have happened if I was a white expatriate,” he said.

The engineer, who has a good income, also does not believe that money was a problem. “It’s just blatant racism, and I was very shocked when I witnessed that,” he said.

‘Believed to be unreliable’

Farhad Arefi (name changed), Mr. Prasad’s new landlord, has roots in Afghanistan. He grew up in Germany and knows about the racism problem in the housing market. “Many white Germans believe that Asian, African or Arab migrants do not pay their rent because they do not have money or are unreliable. They have a lot of prejudices. For that reason, it is very hard for migrants to find a flat,” he said. Mr. Arefi immediately accepted Mr. Prasad as his new tenant. He does not believe that the attitudes of German society will change anytime soon. “Racism is a big problem, and a lot of media outlets continue to portray migrants or refugees in a very bad way,” he said.

Some observers believed that political pressure on the government and legal action against the discriminating parties need to be stepped up to prevent racist behaviour in the housing market. For example, affected persons can be empowered to go to law as long as racism can be explicitly proved, like in the case of Mr. Prasad, who received such messages from his prospective landlords. The discrimination is also obvious if someone gets a rejection while the apartment is still free, as in the case of Mr. Sarikaya. However, at the same time, many believed that house-owners have the right to decide whether or not to rent their apartment to a potential tenant.

Emran Feroz is a freelance journalist based in Stuttgart, Germany

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Printable version | Apr 6, 2020 1:29:34 PM |

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