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Discrimination watchdog fines landlords for rental housing bias

In one case, a couple's rental application was rejected due to their sexual orientation and in the other because one spouse was an Iraqi asylum seeker.

The ombudsman confirmed that some groups are treated unfairly in the housing market. Image: Kimmo Hiltunen / Yle

Finland's Non-Discrimination Ombudsman, Kristina Stenman, has settled two cases of discrimination related to rental housing.

In one instance, a landlord refused to rent an apartment to a same-sex couple. The second case involved a Lutheran parish which denied housing to a Finnish-Iraqi married couple.

Stenman said that the landowners were ordered to provide compensation for discrimination in both cases.

The ombudsman holds that while landlords have the right to choose their tenants, the selection criteria must not be discriminatory.

Pre-existing prejudices lead to certain groups being treated unfairly in the rental housing market, noted Stenman, adding that it is important to bring discrimination to light and help tenants become more aware of their rights.

"It is important that conditions in the housing market are fair and that everyone has access to housing. There is still a prevailing notion that a landlord can choose their tenant on discriminatory grounds," she commented.

Stenman suggested that a landlord would be in violation of Finland's Non-Discrimination Act if they treat a tenant unfairly based on personal grounds.

Several recent cases based on sexual orientation

The first case in question involved a series of messages exchanged between a landlord and a same-sex couple. In the messages, the landlord violated the Non-Discrimination Act by dehumanising the couple in a manner that meets the definition of harassment, the ombudsman declared.

The couple received 2,000 euros in compensation from the landlord.

"The status and rights of sexual minorities have improved in recent decades, but this case indicates that discrimination has not disappeared," Stenman stated.

The ombudsman has dealt with several such cases in recent years. According to Stenman, the number of cases is probably higher than the official figure, as discrimination often goes unreported.

Bias based on speculation over asylum seeker's future

The second case of discrimination involved a married couple, one of whom was a Finnish citizen and the other Iraqi.

According to the ombudsman, a parish union refused to rent an apartment to the couple as the Finnish spouse would have been the only one to sign the lease.

The union's decision was based on an existing law that requires the spouse who has not signed the lease to fulfil any financial obligations in the event that the spouse who did sign it moves out of the apartment.

"The proprietor assumed that the spouse, who was an asylum seeker, would continue living in the apartment in the event of a divorce and that they would not receive rental income and collecting the same from court would have been difficult," Stenman stated.

The ombudsman ruled that the parish's actions could not be classified as financial risk management alone, as they were based on speculation and assumptions regarding the couple. She also considered the case an infringement of fundamental rights, including the right to choose a life partner.

The parish was made to pay 2,000 euros in compensation to the couple. The ombudsman also said that it has changed its rental guidelines so they are no longer discriminatory.