What can I do?
It might not be easy to report racism in matters related to land, housing or accommodation, however, if you have experienced or witnessed racial discrimination in these areas, there are actions you can take.
Talk to your property owner, landlord or agent
Talking directly to the other party involved in the dispute will frequently be the fastest and cheapest way to resolve an issue. Many complaint mechanisms will require that the person lodging the complaint first tries to resolve the matter directly with the other party. Should you and the other party reach a solution, it is important to put it down in writing.
Make a complaint to a supervisory body
While there is no specific body designed to oversee incidents of racial discrimination in matters related to land, housing or accommodation, there are bodies that will receive complaints about racism in these areas under certain circumstances.
If a real estate agent in the ACT breaches the Real Estate Agent Rules of Conduct, it is possible to make a complaint to the Tenants’ Union ACT. While the Rules of Conduct do not mention discrimination, they do say that “1) An agent must act honestly, fairly and professionally with all parties in a transaction. 2) An agent must not mislead or deceive any parties in negotiations or a transaction.” In most cases a complaint about discrimination will fall under this provision.
In NSW, it might be possible to make a complaint to Fair Trading. While fair trading laws do not deal with discrimination directly, they prohibit agents from engaging in conduct that is, in the circumstances, misleading in connection with the supply of goods and services to a customer.
In the Northern Territories, it is possible to file a complaint about a real estate professional to the local government. Additionally, where a dispute arises between a landlord and a tenant, either party may contact the NT Consumer Affairs to help assist with their dispute.
In South Australia, it is possible to make a complaint against a real estate professional who breached the Real Estate Code of Conduct to the Real Estate Institute of South Australia. According to the Code of Conduct, “a Practitioner should not discriminate against any person in any capacity for reasons of race, colour, religion, sex, familial status, national origin, age, disability or for any other reason.“
Complaints about real estate agents in Victoria are dealt by the Consumer Affairs Victoria’s Estate Agent Resolution Service (EARS). You can have a look at their complaint handling and dispute resolution website to learn more about how they act and how to make a complaint to them. Additionally, tenants Victoria gives further guidance on complaints against landlords and agents and possible actions to take in case your landlord has committed an offence.
In Tasmania, it is possible to make a complaint against a property agent (that is, a real estate agent, a property manager, a general auctioneer or a property representative) to the Property Agents Board of Tasmania.
In Western Australia, it might be possible to make a consumer complaint to the Government.
Take your case to a federal or state court
Any matter related to racism can be reported to the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) or other state anti-discrimination bodies. You can click here for more information about how to make a complaint to the AHCR or to a state body.
After you have done that, in some cases it might be possible for you to take your case to court. As court procedures can be complicated and vary greatly from state to state, we recommend that if you wish to seek redress through the court system, you first seek advice from your nearest Community Legal Centre and/or Legal Aid to get further assistance on how and to whom you should make a complaint.
Before making the decision to start a court procedure, it is important to keep in mind that these procedures can be quite costly and lengthy. If this does not seem to be the best option for you, there are alternative dispute resolution methods available at anytime.
Go to the police
In some cases, a racially discriminatory act will constitute a crime and can be reported to the police. Which acts constitute a crime will vary depending on the state or territory you are in. If you wish to go to the police, we advise that you consult with a lawyer or your local police station first.
Make a complaint to the Islamophobia Register
In addition to the above legal and institutional reporting options, if the incident was Islamophobic you might also consider sending a complaint to the Islamophobia Register. Making a report to the Islamophobia Register ensures that incidents of Islamophobia and Anti-Muslim sentiments are securely recorded and analysed to build a body of knowledge about Islamophobia in Australia.
According to a research project undertaken by the Western Sydney University on Ethnic Discrimination in the Private Rental Housing Market in 2015, Anglo-Australians were 4.3 times more likely to be offered an individual appointment to view a property in Sydney than people of either Indian or Muslim Middle Eastern background. Anglo-Australians were also nearly 2.5 times more likely to be contacted by the agent after the inspection.
Despite the facts revealed by this research, the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (RDA) makes it unlawful for a person or an agent to discriminate against someone by reason of race, colour or national or ethnic origin in matters relating to land, housing and accommodation. More specifically, the act makes it unlawful for someone to be discriminated against:
- when land or accommodation is advertised (e.g. an ad that says that people of a particular ethnic group cannot apply)
- when you enquire about the availability of advertised land or accommodation (e.g. an agent refuses to show a vacant property to a person because he or she is a foreigner)
- when you apply for rental accommodation or land purchase (e.g. by refusing to take your application, placing you lower on a list of applicants, or refusing to rent or sell the premises to you)
- while you are renting accommodation by imposing terms or conditions which are discriminatory (e.g. limiting the people you can invite to visit)
- by ending the tenancy
- by not receiving all the benefits associated with your accommodation (e.g. you live in flats with a pool and are not allowed to use the pool because of your race).
As explained by the Anti Discrimination Commission Queensland (ADCQ), “tenants, potential tenants and property buyers should be assessed on their individual merits rather than on the basis of bias or prejudice. Unfair assumptions about people because of their age, sex, race, parental status etc can result in unlawful discrimination. Real estate agents and property owners therefore have the right to select a tenant primarily on the basis of the tenant’s ability to fulfil basic tenancy responsibilities such as paying the rent on time and maintaining the premises.“
However, it is important to note that, as pointed out by Tenants NSW, “under the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, an act is not unlawful in relation to accommodation if sharing with the owner or their close relative.“
Case study: Lynton v Maugeri (1995) EOC 92-754
“In a case that was heard in the Anti-Discrimination Tribunal, an Aboriginal woman was refused rental accommodation because of her race (Lynton v Maugeri (1995) EOC 92-754). When the woman arrived to inspect a house she was told it had already been rented to another person. A relative of the woman phoned the lessor and was told the house was still available for rent. The person asked why her relative had earlier been told the house had already been rented out. The daughter of the owners told them:My parents wouldn’t rent the house to black people. The Tribunal awarded Ms Lynton compensation of $18,000.“