Barcelona fines landlords for refusing to rent flat to Moroccan person

The €45,000 fine is the first for racism in access to housing

3 min
An advert for a rented flat in Barcelona, in an archive image.

BarcelonaBarcelona City Council has fined the landlords and letting agent renting out a flat €45,000 for refusing to rent it to a Moroccan man. This is the first fine imposed by a City Council for direct discrimination due to racism, a very serious infraction of regulations. The City Council was able to verify that although there was a person interested in renting the flat, the landlords refused to rent it to him because of his origin. Previously, however, there is a similar case in which the consistory has intervened before an advertisement of a flat that was offered only to Spaniards.

The facts happened in early 2020 when Redouane Mehdi expressed his interest in renting the flat. He was looking for a property that was close to work and was interested in a flat in Barceloneta. Despite providing the requested documents and demonstrating his level of solvency, the real estate agency did not respond to his request. "After many attempts, I sent them an email asking them to delete my details and I asked them if they didn't want to rent it to me the flat out of racism," he explains. Finally, the letting agent informed him that they had chosen another tenant, but the apartment was still empty and available.

To check, an acquaintance of his, who is not of Moroccan origin, took an interest in the flat - without revealing his relationship with Mehdi - and was able to visit it and demonstrate his level of solvency. In this case, the owner was willing to rent the flat out to him. Thus, according to the City Council, it was possible to prove that this was a case of direct discrimination on the grounds of racism. "He is Argentinian, but in terms of requirements he had the same as me," the victim says, "the difference is that he was a white man with a European surname". Mehdi regrets the obstacles he has to face in order to sign a rental contract: "When I call a real estate agency the first thing they ask me is where I'm from."

In fact, according to a study carried out by Barcelona City Council, when it comes to requesting information on rental flat offers, requests made by people with Arab names receive fewer responses than those with native names. While 2 out of 10 native applicants get an appointment to visit the flat, only 1 out of 10 get an appointment when the applicant's name is Arabic.

Mehdi transferred his case to the City Council's Office for Non-Discrimination (OND), which analysed the facts alongside the Municipal Institute for Housing (IMHAB), which was in charge of initiating the administrative procedure to fine the landlords. During the process, the three individuals who own the property and the letting agent presented allegations and evidence, but they were dismissed.

Underreporting and lack of evidence

From the victim's point of view, it is not easy to prove that they have experienced a situation of discrimination in access to housing. "When it comes to denouncing it is often not enough with a witness statement; other evidence is needed," says the councillor for Social Rights, Marc Serra. This means that fewer cases are reported than actually take place in the city, which leads victims to normalise discrimination and resign themselves to it. Serra stresses that it is important to "document" these situations - for example by using messages instead of calls - in order to have evidence to help them report any incidents.

In the first half of 2021, the Office for Non-Discrimination has opened 13 files for situations in which the right to housing has been violated. In the same period last year 9 files were opened, and in 2019 there were 5. In addition, the OND has transferred six cases to IMHAB that could lead to a sanction. Serra insists that the case should serve as a warning for landlords and letting agents in the sector: "We hope that this case reaches the public and that the different real estate operators avoid any situation of racism or discrimination in access to housing".