When we rent the apartment to a foreigner but we deny it to an immigrant

  • A report commissioned by the city council highlights that 62% of real estate agents agree to discriminate against potential tenants because of their origin

  • The analysis was made by calling professionals and proposing that they not accept candidates for housing if they were migrants.

Just like we like travelers but we dislike tourists, they sound like us better foreigners than immigrants. It is not a surprising finding, but it can be demonstrated with data, as it does A study on real estate racism by the social consultancy Broll SCCL, promoted by the Barcelona City Council and presented this Thursday, which has detected, with an appropriate methodology, that there is discrimination in the field of rental housing that is activated when an immigrant tries to become a tenant.

The report, entitled ‘Discrimination a la carte’, prepared with a budget of 18,000 eurosThis was done using the ‘mystery calling’ technique, which is frequent to evaluate the quality of the companies’ customer service. People who pretended to be owners of a home they wanted to rent called 350 real estate agents in Barcelona (there were 2,358 in the city in 2020) to request that they put their apartment on the market but with one condition: that they not accept potential tenants who were people immigrants.

The main conclusion: 62% of the real estate agents consulted agreed to impose this veto and exclude clients of foreign origin. Only 10% flatly refused to accept the requirement. 24% did not accept the discrimination but did facilitate it. In other words, it did not open to discarding candidates but it did warn the property of which ones were foreign so that it knew that it should reject them. Finally, 4% limited themselves to not responding in one way or another to the stake of the fictitious owners of the flat.

Foreign: sounds reliable

The person responsible for the report, Ariadna Fitó, partner of the consulting firm and associate professor of Sociology at the UAB, has underlined the contrast between the words immigrant and foreigner when looking for a tenant for a rental apartment. He has argued that there is a pyramid that classifies what is most and least desirable, and has stressed that that of the foreign population is a profile that is considered desirable, because clients are associated with resources. And although he has not detailed it, it is also associated with certain countries with high purchasing power. On the other hand, when talking about the immigrant population, the association is made in the opposite sense, both in money and geographically speaking.

Another finding of the study is that discrimination is a hidden reality in the sector, since 19.4% of the agents contacted spontaneously warn the alleged owners that they cannot advertise the discrimination they claim. And they do it without those owners having directly requested that the veto appear in the ad. Which suggests that they are used to these situations.

‘Discrimination a la carte’ exposes how agents who accept to impose the veto usually detect immigrants in very specific ways: the accent on the first phone call, the appearance on a visit and, more clearly, the documentation they provide. All this helps to achieve the objective of the veto without the reason for rejection being clear. Often times, agents indicate that they will tell the unwanted customer that the apartment is already rented.

No sanctions or inspections

Barcelona does not have the power to inspect the work of the agents and the objective of the report is not to punish them, but to detect the extent to which discrimination is widespread. Has stressed it the Councilor for Citizenship Rights, Marc Serra, who has presented it with Fitó. Serra has explained that the work has been transferred to the College of Real Estate Administrators (API) and the Chamber of Urban Property for them to take it into account.

The school, by the way, is a relevant factor in the study, which argues that the percentage of rejection of racist practices is higher among collegiate officers than among those who are not. Among the agents who were called, the difference is significant. In the case of members, 15% rejected the discrimination, 49% accepted it, 30% opened up to facilitate it and 6% did not respond. In the non-collegiate group, only 5% rejected it, 76% accepted it, 17% provided it and 2% did not respond. Fito recommends more training for professionals on current regulations.

In global figures, of the 10% who refuse to discriminate against immigrants, the study affirms that there are three motivations that support their position: the warning that it would be illegal to accept what is asked of them, which is the majority, a personal position anti-racism and the argument that the agent’s experience indicates that it is not true that the discriminated group normally causes the problems attributed to it.


Serra recalled that the city council has already promoted studies on real estate racism and that it has imposed two fines for two specific cases. One, that of an advertisement in which it was specified that a rental apartment was only offered to possible Spanish tenants, for 90,000 euros. The other, to a real estate agency who denied rent to a Moroccan, claiming that the house was not available, while offering it to an acquaintance of the former who was not an immigrant. In this second case the fine was 45,000 euros.

Neither one nor the other have been charged because those sanctioned have presented appeals before the contentious-administrative one. City council sources point out that there are no legal precedents because they are pioneering fines.

Related news

When the agent is an immigrant

Asked about the cases in which the real estate agent is an immigrant, Fitó has reported that it would be very interesting to analyze how they mostly act, but has specified that only 20 of the 350 agents contacted were, which is not a sufficient sample to reach to significant results. However, he has warned that international studies show that immigrant agents also discriminate against immigrants who want to be tenants.


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