Housing discrimination

Everyone needs a home. Housing is a basic right, and discrimination related to housing puts people in a particularly difficult position. Discrimination on the housing market, especially due to the origin or disability of the person looking for housing, is unfortunately all too common. Housing discrimination may occur both in finding housing as well as in housing services.

Discrimination on the housing market may manifest, for example, in excluding a certain group, such as families with children, students or foreigners in a housing advertisement, a private lessor stating to the estate agent a wish not to rent the dwelling to the Roma, for instance, or housing application forms that are not accessible.

The Non-Discrimination Act applies both to renting housing as well as rental housing advertisements. Offering an apartment for rent online or in a newspaper – also when offered by a private lessor – is within the scope of application of the act. In contrast, subletting relationships and renting a holiday home to family or friends are not within the scope of application of the Non-Discrimination Act. 

In addition to individual cases of discrimination, the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman promotes equality in housing and on the housing market by having discussions with operators in the field and training them as well as promoting the accessibility of housing, among other things.

The party providing housing cannot choose residents based on discriminatory grounds

The seller, lessor and estate agent of the housing (based on the assignment) can choose the residents, but not on discriminatory grounds. The seller, lessor and estate agent can naturally require that a buyer or tenant is able to pay and fulfil the other obligations related to tenancy, but the selection cannot be based on factors such as the origin, religion or disability of the person. The seller, lessor and estate agent are guilty of discrimination in violation of the Non-Discrimination Act, if a person is treated more unfavourably than others due to a personal characteristic without a justified reason. 

Estate agents are guilty of discrimination if they accept discriminatory conditions set by the client, such as if the lessor does not want to rent the housing to a foreigner, for instance.

For disabled customers, the estate agent must also be familiar with the provision of the Non-Discrimination Act concerning reasonable accommodations that obliges the service provider to implement the appropriate accommodations for the situation in question. The accommodations ensure that persons with disabilities can receive generally offered services equally with others. 

Reasonable accommodations in housing can mean, for instance: 

  • the estate agent helping a person with visual impairment with filling in a rental application 
  • recording everything necessary on paper for a person with hearing impairment or answering questions in writing at the viewing of the housing unit
  • from the point of view of the client, this may mean taking the needs of tenants with reduced mobility into account, for example, as well as an obligation to implement reasonable changes so that the housing unit is also suitable for persons with reduced mobility.

Discriminatory housing advertisements

The Non-Discrimination Ombudsman regularly receives complaints about racist or discriminatory rental housing advertisements found in various advertisement services. For example, requiring that the tenant is a Finnish citizen in the advertisement is against the Non-discrimination Act. The lessor of the housing unit cannot state that they refuse to rent the unit to a specific ethnic group, either. Requiring fluent Finnish language skills may also be discriminatory. There are several ways to make sufficient communication between the lessor and tenant possible, such as communicating through an interpreter or in a language other than Finnish known by both parties.    

Tenant selection for ARAVA- and interest subsidy-financed rental housing 

ARAVA (state subsidised housing loan) and interest subsidy-financed rental housing, or ARA housing, refers to rental apartments built with government support. ARA rental housing units are owned by municipalities, other public bodies as well as non-profit corporations.

The starting point of the Act on the Use, Assignment and Redemption of State-Subsidized (ARAVA) Rental Dwellings and Buildings is that the choice of residents for ARAVA-financed rental housing is based on social grounds and financial need. According to the provisions, those with the most urgent need for housing, the most limited means and the lowest income must be primarily selected. 

The party providing housing is carrying out a public administration duty insofar as it offers housing units for rent within the scope of ARA regulations and chooses residents for the units. Therefore, the housing service in question is obliged to promote equality and take the necessary measures to ensure the realisation of equality.

The criteria defined by law apply to the selection of residents for ARAVA- and interest subsidy-financed rental housing. Further information from the website of Housing Finance and Development Centre of Finland (ARA).

On the rights of those who have experienced discrimination on the housing market

Those who have experienced discrimination on the housing market have the right to receive compensation from the client and estate agent guilty of discrimination. If the estate agent is an employee, the housing agency acting as the employer is liable to compensate. In addition, victims of discrimination have the right to compensation for the suffering and possible material loss caused by the discrimination. 

According to the Non-Discrimination Act, the party that drew up the advertisement is also liable to compensate for the discriminatory actions, if they are considered to constitute the provision of services. This means that a discriminatory advertisement may result in paying a compensation to the victim of discrimination.

Discrimination during residence

The Non-Discrimination Ombudsman is also contacted about situations related to housing and rental relationships. For example, they may involve situations, in which the building manager has issued a resident a warning or complaint on disturbances that the party filing the complaint considers groundless or unjustified. There are also many cases related to disagreements between residents, in which a resident feels that they have been discriminated against due to their origin, for instance. If the relationships between residents have become badly strained, the Community Mediation Centre can be contacted. 

The building manager must comply with the Non-Discrimination Act when providing services. For example, the building manager must ensure that a resident is not issued warnings because the other neighbours want to drive the resident out of the building due to the resident’s origin. A lessor of an ARA housing unit is also obliged to promote the equality of rental housing residents by means such as intervening in serious neighbourhood conflicts, in which accusations are constantly focused on a group of residents due to their origin. In their activities, the providers of ARA housing are obliged to promote the availability of housing and services during residence for customers speaking different languages.