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Discrimination in Belgian rental market persists, with 300 complaints last year

09:02 30/01/2023

Discrimination in the Belgian housing market has been on researchers' and policymakers' radar for some time now - but despite mounting studies showing that black people and people of Middle Eastern descent are denied housing, the problem continues to persist.

While denying someone housing on the basis of race or ethnicity is against the law in Belgium, there were at least 300 complaints of discrimination in the housing market made in 2022.

Most of these involved discrimination on the basis of the financial situation of the tenants, racial criteria and disability.

One woman of Moroccan origin, Jamila Ziti, told RTBF that she has been a victim of discrimination on numerous occasions.

Despite being employed, married and having no pets or children – what some would consider to be the ideal tenant – she has been denied housing repeatedly.

“The lady at the agency said to me: 'Listen, I'm going to tell you something, but you didn’t hear it from me: The landlord doesn't want Arabs or blacks',” she told RTBF.

Another time, after arranging to meet the owner of a house she was interested in renting, the owner claimed to have forgotten the keys after seeing what she looked like.

“It is important to remember that selecting a tenant is not necessarily discrimination,” Nathalie Denies of Unia, an independent public institution that fights discrimination and promotes equal opportunities, told RTBF.

“So the landlord always retains the right to choose according to a series of criteria that are not discriminatory.”

Other criteria, on the other hand, cannot legally be cited as a reason for refusal by landlords.

These include “the completely racist stereotypes that imply that people of foreign origin would not have the capacities or aptitudes to manage a property as well as another, and would use this property in a completely senseless way or would be much noisier because they would invite more family”.

Denies said “all of these stereotypes are linked and are ultimately also linked to a lack of understanding.”

For people like Jamila, these stereotypes mean it is harder for her to put a roof over her head, no matter her income.

“I have the impression that we are not treated as human beings – it's a bit hard to accept that because I think that housing is a civil right, it's a right of every citizen,” she said.

“We’re not asking for charity. I want to pay rent and I don't have the same rights as someone called Jacques or Sandrine. That's sad, that hurts very, very, very much."

Landlords who violate the law are liable to criminal or civil penalties, but those who feel they have been discriminated against often do not trust that pressing charges would lead to any kind of helpful outcome.

Jamila, for her part, did not seek to press charges.

Written by Helen Lyons