Control with academic tests
Between February 2020 and February 2021, the researchers investigated discrimination by real estate agents and private landlords using 1,973 academic correspondence tests – the written variant of situation tests. They responded by written messages to existing properties advertised for rent on Immoweb with two fictitious candidate tenants each: the test person had a characteristic that could result in discrimination (e.g. a Moroccan or Congolese name, a wheelchair or an assistance dog) and the control person did not have this characteristic (e.g. a Belgian name, no wheelchair or no dog). In all other aspects, the test and control subjects were identical. The researchers then observed to what extent the candidates were invited to view the property .
The tests show objectively that ethnic minorities are structurally discriminated against on the rental market in Leuven. Candidates with Moroccan names are least likely to be invited to view a property, with a net discrimination rate of 35%. In addition, male candidates with a Nepalese and Congolese name are offered viewings less than men with a Belgian name. Their net discrimination rates are 24% and 19% respectively. Finally, the researchers also examined, for the first time in Belgium, the effect of a Belgian first name and a Moroccan surname. These candidates with mixed names were also still discriminated against with a net discrimination degree of 15%.
For each of the minority groups, the discrimination rates were somewhat higher among private landlords than among professional estate agents, but the differences were never significant.
Discrimination on the basis of physical handicap
The correspondence tests also showed that wheelchair users find it very difficult to rent a house in Leuven. The net discrimination rate for this group was 50%. Applicants who use a wheelchair often ask to be allowed – if necessary – to make “reasonable adjustments” to the house at their own expense (e.g. installing a stair lift or lowering switches). These “reasonable adjustments” are protected by law and ensure that people with physical disabilities can fully participate in society. The analysis showed that real estate agents and landlords often do not allow these reasonable adjustments. “Sometimes there were good practical reasons for such a refusal, but often it was due to ignorance about these reasonable adjustments or simply gratuitous refusal of them without reason,” says Billie Martiniello.
Blind and visually impaired people with an assistance dog were also offered viewings less often. Their net discrimination rate was 33%. “However, this is entirely due to the assistance dog,” says Pieter-Paul Verhaeghe. “When they do not mention their guide dog, they are no longer invited to fewer viewings.” Refusing a trained assistance dog is prohibited by law.
Effect of the pandemic?
Due to Covid-19, the study had to be stopped twice: from 16 March to 31 August 2020 and from 1 November to 31 December 2020. The lockdowns imposed in March and November 2020 meant that physical viewings of rental properties were no longer possible. The second lockdown, however, was less well followed in practice. Previous research had already shown that the first lockdown led to increased discrimination against people with a Moroccan name in the short term. By waiting long enough – until September – to test again, the researchers were able to avoid this effect. As a result, the results were, as far as possible, not influenced by the corona pandemic.
The research was carried out with the University of Antwerp and KU Leuven and commissioned by the City of Leuven with Lies Corneillie (councillor for housing and equal opportunities) and Lalynn Wadera (councillor for diversity).
Prof Pieter-Paul Verhaeghe
Department of Sociology, Vrije Universiteit Brussel
0473 86 53 75
The full research report can be downloaded here.