Germany's racism watchdog says discrimination in the housing market is commonplace and becoming increasingly open.
Stuttgart — When Srinivasa Prasad talks about his househunting experience in Stuttgart, he appears both angry and sad.
“The total majority of renters were not interested in seeing me after they found out that I am not German. They even pointed out why I am not speaking their language,” said the Indian engineer who recently moved from Hong Kong to Germany.
Prasad has been working for a big German company for a couple of years. Recently, he resettled in Stuttgart. However, finding a proper apartment for his Indian family became a problem.
Many landlords – and he contacted over a hundred – did not want to rent their apartments to non-white foreigners. Additionally, a lot of them did not hesitate to hide their blatant racism towards Prasad and his family.
“I will never, ever, rent my house to someone like you,” one person wrote. “We do not rent to people who do not speak our language,” another landlord messaged.
The fact is, racism in the German housing market is nothing new. Finding a place to live has always been a challenge for foreigners, migrants or refugees. This also includes Germans whose parents or grandparents were migrants.
“When I talked with the renters on the 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 changed,” said Omer Sarikaya (name changed), a student from Stuttgart University.
According to Sarikaya, most homeowners told him that they found another tenant after they had met him. “In many cases, they just lied. 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 was free again,” he said.
Already in 2015, Germany's Anti-discrimination Office pointed out that racism and discrimination against minorities were commonplace in the housing market. In a report, the office underlined the fact that discrimination was taking place in face-to-face talks. Additionally, overt religious affiliations, such as a Muslim's hijab, also led to regular disadvantages.
Sarikaya, who has a Turkish-Muslim background, remembers 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 Erdogan or if I was affiliated to radical extremist groups,” he said.
Prasad finally found an apartment that was 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 expat,” he said.
The engineer, who earns a high income, also does not believe that money was a problem. “It's just blatant racism, and I was very shocked when I witnessed that,” Prasad said.
Farhad Arefi (name changed), Prasad's new landlord, has roots in Afghanistan. He grew up in Germany and knows 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.
Arefi immediately accepted Prasad as his new tenant. However, he does not believe that German society will move forward any time 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 believe that only an increase in political pressure and legal action can prevent racist behaviour in the housing market. For example, every affected person can go to the law as long racism can be proven, as in the case with the hateful messages Prasad received.
The discrimination is also evident if someone gets a rejection while the apartment is still free, barring any legitimate objections to the prospective tenant, of course.
With such proof, legal avenues are available, as a recent example made clear. A court in the city of Augsburg decided that an 81-year-old man had to pay a fine of 1,000 euro after he announced that his flat was just available “Germans”.
When Hamado Dipama, a black man with African roots searched for a place to live, saw the announcement and talked to the man over the phone, he was enraged and decided to take legal action.
However, at the same time, many people, including the racist landlord from Augsburg, believe that every German has the right to decide who moves in his or her apartment.
The man, who called Dipama “Mr Obama” in front of the court, also said that he had bad experiences “with Turks”.
“Crimes are committed by individual humans, not by their nationalities,” the responsible judge answered.