Housing
Society 16/12/2021

86% of letting agents in Barcelona accept or facilitate racism according to a study by City Council

The study, made from calls to 350 agents, reveals discrimination in the sector

3 min
The number of families living in rented accommodation in Barcelona already exceeds 35%

Barcelona"It's OK, just as there are people who don't want animals, there are landlords who don't want immigrants... or children, which we have also come across at times". This is one of the answers sociologist Ariadna Fitó, a professor at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona who also works at Broll cooperative, found when she offered a flat for rent in Barcelona's Eixample district to 350 letting agents over the phone. She wasn't really offering it, it was just an experiment, but when she told the real estate agents that she didn't want immigrants, 62.3% accepted the request without reservations. A further 23.7% replied that they would not rule them out, but that with the data they would give her she could do it herself. The study, commissioned by Barcelona City Council, has shown that 86% of real estate agencies accept or facilitate racism in renting.

"One of the most recurrent answers was: 'No problem'," explains Fitó. A total of 218 real letting agents gave this kind of answer, accepting the prospective landlord's racism, and 83 chose to facilitate it. This strategy "is much more subtle and is done with the aim of leaving no trace, but it is also a direct discrimination and the result is the same: immigrants are excluded," Fitó says.

The fact that the racist request comes from the owner "does not exempt real estate agents from the obligation to respect anti-discrimination laws and their own code of ethics," the report recalls. Moreover, some real estate agencies offer "discrimination a la carte", as the study calls it. They allow landlords to choose which countries of origin they want to discard. "I understand that you won't leave out a French person, for example... but you would have to tell me: look, no Chinese, no blacks – you would have to tell me who you would consider", one of the agents offered.

Real estate racism is so normalised that, in conversations with the researcher, 28% of real estate agents acknowledged that it is "habitual," even though it is not included directly in ads because it is illegal. "We don't put it up anywhere because it's ugly, but we filter them out, and so they [the immigrant] don't feel offended we explain that it's been taken or something, and we don't show them around," one of the estate agents told the researcher.

In the summer, Barcelona City Council announced that it had fined the owners of an apartment and the letting estate agent who was renting it out €45,000 for refusing it to a Moroccan citizen who met all the requirements. But detecting this type of case is particularly difficult. The study explains that the agents "are worried the practice would be detected" and, therefore, 19.4% warned that they would not publish a discriminatory ad, although 70.6% of these agreed to discriminate and only refused to publish the ad to avoid a fine.

The difference of the collegiate

The study has also detected differences between professionals who are members of a professional association and those who are not, especially when it comes to directly accepting the discrimination: 48.6% of those who are members did so, while 76% of those who are not members of a professional association did so. However, 30.3% of members offered to facilitate it, while 17.1% of non-members did. In total, 78.9% of registered professionals and 93.1% of non-registered professionals facilitated or accepted discrimination. The report indicates that "agents' belonging to an association could be acting as a protective factor against discrimination".

The sample with which Fitó has worked is "very significant". It was carried out with responses from almost 15% of the 2,358 registered real estate agents in Barcelona, which guarantees a maximum margin of error of 5%. And this means it is pioneering research in Catalonia and Spain. Presented this morning by the Councillor for Citizenship Rights and Participation, Marc Serra, the report fits "with similar results" from other European research and joins another study that was carried out last year in Barcelona, which found that if you asked for information on a flat using an Arabic name you received 18.8% fewer responses from letting agents.

Data does not surprise the City Council

"We are not surprised by the data, it is a reality that we see every day in the Office for Non-Discrimination," said the Councillor for Citizens' Rights at a press conference, who remarked that the study shows that "real estate racism" is not a specific problem, but a "structural" one. The councillor pointed out that the aim of the study is not to punish anyone, that it seeks to measure the extent of discrimination and that the Office does not rule out repeating the same study after some time to see how the problem evolves.

One in ten agents refuses to make discrimination

Only 4% (14) of real estate agents avoided responding to the request for discrimination, arguing that it was better to talk about it directly or referred to a boss, and only 10% (35) refused the request. Those who refused to apply racism basically did so for three reasons: most referred to professional experience, but some also did so out of a commitment to anti-racism or by saying that they had to comply with the law. The study cites a few cases of estate agents who object, clarifying that they do not discriminate "against anyone", warning that "it cannot be done legally" or warning that it is a mistake: "Are there immigrants who do not pay? Of course there are. And Spaniards too. This is how it is, and I tell you from experience."

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