When a foreign-sounding name makes it hard to find a flat in Berlin 

An office focused on ending discrimination has come up with nine guidelines for landlords to end discrimination in renting.

If they can't pronounce it, they may not invite you.
If they can't pronounce it, they may not invite you.Imago/Maskot

Berlin-A local office focused on ending discrimination in property rental has developed a list of guidlines for landlords amid complaints that foreign last names often rule out renters before they even get to see a flat. 

The Fair mieten - Fair wohnen (Rent fair - Live fair) office hopes to compel landlords to sign the guidelines, but have yet to even win over Berlin's biggest landlord - the city-state itself.

"The office currently receives an average of up to five requests for advice a week from people looking for housing who have been searching unsuccessfully for a long time," says Remzi Uyguner from the Turkish Federation in Berlin and Brandenburg (TBB). Together with the consulting firm UrbanPlus, the TBB is one of the sponsors of the Fair Mieten - Fair Wohnen office, which began its work in 2017. Apartment seekers are often not invited to view an apartments and don't even receive rejection letters, Uyguner says.

Although discrimination isn't obvious in these cases, the office is almost exclusively approached by people with non-German names who are frustrated after being all-but ignored by landlords. 

If you fear you're a victim of housing discrimination, the office offers help in English here.

No enforcement

The office now wants to take stronger action against such unequal treatment and Monday unveiled its fair renting guidelines wtih nine principles it hopes will ensure a "culture of fair renting." The goal is for "non-discriminatory housing applications, allocation, rental and management," according to the preamble.

 Discrimination is most evident during the selection of tenants but also occurs in other areas, the guidelines say. Management is also often discriminatory when dealing with neighborhood conflicts or in dealing with repairs.

The guidelines also call for landlords to assume co-responsibility for "diverse housing" for generally accessible housing as well as clear and non-discriminatory language. They also must commit to communicating selection processes "comprehensibly and to make selection criteria visible".

Signatory landlords must also  take complaints of discrimination seriously, process them and develop measures against discrimination.

Berlin's property companies not signing

Although those who sign the guidelines agree to comply, there is no enforcement or possible fines. However, they do agree to attend an annual "sustainability event." The event reinforces the culture of fair leasing.

The city-state's own housing companies, which have made a name for themselves as fair landlords by offering relatively low rents, are reluctant to sign the mission statement. In a joint statement obtained by Berliner Zeitung from the Association of Berlin-Brandenburg Housing Companies (BBU), they point to earlier commitments.

"The six state-owned housing companies offer housing for all," it says. In this respect - legally and contractually - "non-discriminatory renting is a matter of course for the companies." For example, a cooperation agreement with the Berlin government "also provides for very specific quotas for special target groups.

State-owned housing companies said they already cooperate with Fair Mieten - Fair Wohnen for "discrimination prevention". The cooperation has been in place for several years and the public landlords says they have yet to be suspected of discrimination.

"Our business processes are geared to ensuring non-discriminatory leasing," the joint statement said.

However, the guidelines have already found their first supporter in Thomas Groth, head of property management company Allod.

"For us, it was and is very important to be a reliable and fair partner for our tenants and customers," Groth says.

Real estate entrepreneur Ulrich Braun has also signed on.

"Affected by the story of an Afghan family in Berlin, I started promoting renting to refugees in private housing in 2011," he says. "Equal opportunities for social participation, the idea of the common good and also the preservation of a colourful, cosmopolitan Berlin are important aims for me at all levels of our society."