Swedish court okays higher rent for refugees

A Swedish court has ruled that a landlord’s decision to charge higher rent to a refugee family does not qualify as discrimination.

For more than three years, refugee Nafisa Khavari has been fighting against paying what she sees as an unjustifiably high rent.

She came to Sweden from Afghanistan with her seven children several years ago, and has been renting an apartment in Hällefors in central Sweden from the Skarets fastigheter property management company, according to the Hem & Hyra magazine.

After signing her rental agreement, Khavari later learned that she was paying thousands of kronor more per month in rent than her ethnically Swedish neighbours and decided to sue the landlord with support from Sweden’s Ombudsman for Ethnic Discrimination (DO).

But the landlord argued the higher rent was justified, explaining that refugees cause damage to apartments in a different way than “taxpayers” do.

“They live differently in the countries they come from. Taxpayers take care of the damage themselves when they move. Refugees don’t have any money. And you can tell them to clean the apartment when they leave, but they never really do anything. I think instead that they ought to appreciate that we take care of the apartment after they move,” said landlord Nils-Olav Skaret to Hem & Hyra.

But DO lawyer Ulrika Dietersson disagreed with Skaret’s reasoning, asserting that the company was guilty of discrimination and of taking advantage of the refugees’ situation to charge a higher rent.

“This has to be seen as a very serious affront to the tenant,” she said in her closing arguments, urging the court to order Skaret to pay Khavari 120,000 kronor in damages.

But the Örebro District Court ruled in favour of the landlord, finding that refugees as a group can’t be considered an ethnic minority.

Rather than take a stand on whether Skaret was right or wrong to charge higher rent, the court instead focused on DO’s way of defining an ethnic minority.

During the trial, the ombudsman argued that the terms “refugee” and “immigrant” are interchangeable with ethnic minority, and that both are subject to discrimination for just that reason.

But the court disagreed, writing that a person can’t be considered as belonging to an ethnic minority simply because he or she is a refugee or immigrant.

The ruling came as an unexpected shock to Khavari .

“It’s unfair, I’m really upset,” she told Hem & Hyra, adding she would join the DO in an appeal, but isn’t sure she’s ready to go through a new trial.

“And even if we appeal, I don’t think that I’ll succeed. Even the court has a discriminatory view toward immigrants.”

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