Austrian study shows discrimination against foreigners in the housing market

Amanda Previdelli
Amanda Previdelli - [email protected]
Austrian study shows discrimination against foreigners in the housing market
Buildings in the city of Innsbruck, Austria (Photo by Harold Wainwright on Unsplash)

A study on discrimination in the housing market has shown stark differences in the treatment of applicants with "local and foreign-sounding" names when applying for rental homes in Austria.

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The study conducted by SORA and commissioned by the Ombud for Equal Treatment (GAW) revealed racial discrimination in the Austrian housing market, reported.

In early 2023, the study researchers made up two individuals called "Muhammad Asif" and "Michael Gruber". These fictitious applicants contacted 157 housing advertisements in Graz, Vienna, Innsbruck, and Linz. 

"Muhammad Asif" received an acceptance for a viewing appointment in 50 percent of the cases, while nearly one in five rejections claimed that the apartment had already been rented. On the other hand, "Michael Gruber," who always called after Asif, consistently received appointments.

Sandra Konstatzky, the head of the Ombud for Equal Treatment (GAW), explained in an interview with APA that people who experience ethnic discrimination outside the workplace frequently report it during their housing search. Due to the difficulty of proving individual cases, the study aimed to demonstrate the prevalence of discrimination in the housing market.

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Konstatzky suspected that the reasons given for rejecting the test caller Asif, such as the dwelling already being assigned (18 percent) or no dates being available at the moment (four percent), might be false pretexts to avoid accepting the tenant with a "foreign-sounding" name. In most cases, the applicant with a local-sounding name received an acceptance within two hours. 

Even if Asif's appointment was not immediately cancelled, it became significantly more challenging for him to secure a viewing after the initial telephone interview. In 34 percent of cases where an appointment was not made immediately, further documents were requested, and in 25 percent, a written application was required. Conversely, the "Gruber" applicant consistently obtained a viewing appointment in all calls.


Konstatzky assured that the difference in treatment could not be attributed to factors other than the name and accent. Both callers described themselves as middle-aged, single, employed indefinitely in technical professions, and earning a good income. 

As part of the study Michael Gruber was said to be born and raised in Austria, speaking German as his first language. At the same time, the character Mohammad Asif hailed from Afghanistan, had lived in Austria for 20 years, and had been naturalised for five years, speaking German with an accent.

"They did not inquire about his (Mohammed Asif's) financial situation at all; purely based on his name and accent, he was excluded," said the study. Additionally, it remained "completely unclear" to the landlord whether Muhammad Asif was an Austrian citizen or not. This situation also affects many individuals who have resided in Austria for decades or were born there.

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Real estate agents invited Asif to a viewing in only 38 percent of the inquiries, while private landlords did so in 78 percent. Regional variations were observed, with the highest proportion of immediate cancellations or additional requirements for a viewing occurring for the test caller Mohammad Asif in housing advertisements in Innsbruck and Linz (71 percent). Vienna also had a high percentage at 60 percent, while apartments in Graz showed significantly lower discrimination at 22 percent.

Konstatzky emphasised that a lot of discrimination happens subtly and often unconsciously. While the study did not involve openly racist remarks, such incidents occur. The Equal Treatment Act prohibits ethnic discrimination, including in housing access.

In Austria, for example, it is not permitted to advertise an apartment for women only or to exclude single parents or transgender people. Both real estate agents and owners can be liable for damages in case of discrimination. 

The study's results are alarming, Konstatzky said, urging the real estate industry to take every necessary step to establish discrimination-free housing standards.


The Ombud for Equal Treatment has prepared recommendations.

READ ALSO: Can I get a mortgage in Austria as a foreigner?

Among other things, the GAW recommends that landlords familiarise themselves with the Equal Treatment Act, formulate housing advertisements in inclusive, non-discriminatory language, and create a list of objective criteria for ranking prospective tenants.

These include, for example, the time of the request or sufficient creditworthiness. In addition, GAW also offers training on non-discriminatory housing placement, he said. "But NGOs such as the anti-racism organisation ZARA or the Documentation Center for Anti-Muslim Racism also do important educational work," Konstatzky said.


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