One man being investigated is the head of a company called Aldiar KG, which has its office in the Margareten district and has rented out apartments to numerous refugees.
Nina Bussek, spokeswoman for the prosecutor’s office, said that it appears that refugees "who found themselves in a predicament and lacked inexperience or judgement” have been massively exploited.
When contacted by the Austria Press Agency (APA) the owner of Aldiar said that he hadn't been swindling his tenants, but that some of them had in fact not paid him any rent. He currently rents property to 80 people and claims that between 11 and 14 of them had failed to pay him rent.
When searching for accommodation on Vienna’s private housing market refugees face discrimination, high rents and poor quality housing, according to aid organizations.
The public prosecutor is looking into at least one other similar case where a real estate owner is suspected of ripping off refugees.
According to APA one suspect is a businessman from the Middle East who acts as an estate agent and has rented out apartments to families from Syria and Iraq. However, he has allegedly kept the rent money himself and some of the families have since been evicted by police from their homes, losing the deposit and commission they paid to the agent.
Aid organizations such as Diakonie and Caritas say they have been aware of the allegations for some time. The Vienna Social Fund (FSW), which subsidises rents for refugees, has also forwarded names of suspects to the police in cases where they fear that families are being exploited.
One Syrian refugee, who asked not to be named, said that refugees are sometimes warned that certain landlords or agents have a bad reputation but feel that they have no alternative. He said that he and his family were evicted from their apartment, despite having paid the rent, because the apartment’s owners never received the money from the agent.
Many property owners and agents refuse to rent to refugees as they require proof of income and employment before signing a rental contract.
The situation is likely to become critical over the winter. Currently, 9,000 asylum seekers have been provided with private accommodation in Vienna, according to Caritas expert Karin Knogl. However, she said that there are many more asylum seekers across the rest of Austria who plan to move to Vienna to be with family and friends once they have been granted refugee status.