Consumer protection magazine 60 Millions de Consommateurs, released a study on Wednesday, that found that immigrants, single mothers, people under a guardianship and the elderly face a serious struggle to even visit a flat that is available on the rental market.
"We wanted to show that not only is discrimination related to one’s origins, but age, family status and disability are often barriers for housing," Lionel Maugain, who conducted the survey for the magazine, told French daily Le Monde.
In order to carry out the survey the consumer magazine, along with civil rights advocate Defenseur des Droits, sent five people on a search for lodging. Each member of the group called up a rental agency to arrange a visit of a flat that had been advertised for rent.
The undercover renters repeated this same routine with a 150 flats that the researchers had already verified were still available
The group included a control member, who was a young French woman, and four other people who were prime candidates for discrimination. There was a foreigner with an African accent, a young man under a guardianship, a woman over 71 years old and a single mother.
Though they simply wanted to visit the place for rent, the reception they received was shockingly different. The French woman in all 150 cases got an appointment to visit the flat. Yet in 33 percent of his calls, the foreigner was rejected.
Worse yet, in 42 percent of the calls he made, the real estate agents asked the foreigner if his monthly pay was three times the rent. The Frenchwoman got that same question just 10 percent of the time.
The results were not much better for single mothers, who were refused 30 percent of the time, followed by a person under guardianship at 29 percent and finally an elderly person who got a denied by 29 percent of agents.
An African immigrant told Europe 1 radio of his own experience of rental discrimination.
Charles, who's from Côte d’Ivoire, said one landlord had asked him for a month’s rent upfront, a deposit equivalent to two month’s rent and six month’s worth of rent on a special bank account before he’d be able to sign a lease.
Suspicious, Charles asked a French friend, who makes the same salary, to put his name in for the same flat. Charles' suspicisons were quickly confirmed. The friend was offered the place with a first month’s rental payment and one month’s deposit.
“When I figured out the racket, the landlord told me she could do what she wanted,” he told Europe 1 radio. “It was her flat and she didn’t rent to immigrants because she’d had problems collecting the rent.”
The president of a real estate agency that works primarily with expats said the issue is most likely related to finances.
"I think it's an unfortunate short cut taken by the agency or owner, who believe that there will be a problem of unpaid rent," Lodgis real estate agency President Fabrice Petit told The Local. "It's more linked to the fact that there may not be necessary financial means, rather than pure racism."
This sort of discrimination is nothing new and watchdog groups have made multiple efforts to stamp it out.
In October 2012, the study’s co-author Defenseur des Droits released a practical guide for owners and real estate professionals on how to rent without breaking discrimination laws. However, little enforcement is carried out.
It's very difficult to gather enough evidence to proceed with a discrimination cases, though testing operations like this one could be helpful, Le Monde reported.