Talking with RTL Today, Luxembourg's only tenants' association share some of their insights into what tenants in Luxembourg can experience when renting property here.
Ms Ganeto, you are representing the “Mieterschutz” Luxembourg, could you tell us more about the association's work?
“We are a very young association, founded in 2020. All renters in Luxembourg can approach us with issues and questions they might have about tenancy and we try to find a solution together. For more complex matters we have an attorney who, like us, works pro bono and can provide counselling. Outside of our bimonthly consultation hours we reply to requests by email.”
Ms Kaiser, who works as an intern at the association mentions typical questions:
“A lease is terminated, is the termination legal? How much time do I have to find something new?”
With an annual membership fee of €20-60 per year, “we want to make it possible for everyone to join”, says Ms Ganeto.
What are the main topics that people have to deal with in Luxembourg?
“People are astonished to learn under which conditions some people have to live here in Luxembourg.” says Ms Ganeto. “I have worked in social services for more than 25 years and unfortunately, not much has changed. You can see couples with two kids who have to share one room. There are also families who live in basements or in flats with such a high humidity that children get sick. No one is there to help them - for example by looking into alternative solutions.”
“The competent authorities come, take a look, evaluate the situation but then nothing happens” she adds.
Asked if she has data to underpin her experiences, she says that more data is definitely needed: “We need to know how many apartments and houses are empty and it would also be good to register rental contracts, in order to get some overview on who rents out what, at which price etc…”.
In some cases, people not only lose their accommodation but also face a different risk: losing their children.
“If people lose their accommodation, as a consequence, it can happen that they also get their children taken away. This is like a double punishment. Parents are being treated as if they are not capable of taking care of their children even though this has nothing to do with losing their accommodation. When children get separated from their families it can leave them traumatised” says Ms Ganeto.
Through a new, non-representative survey, Mieterschutz would like to shed some light on one of the pressing topics on Luxembourg's rental market, which is discrimination, as Ms Kaiser says:
“We see that many negative things continue to exist and they tend to get worse. “
Ms Kaiser, who also conducted the survey, explains:
“I was asked to draw a conclusion from the requests that reached us in 2020. The initial finding was that, while for some people, it is relatively easy to find accommodation, for others it is significantly more difficult. We wanted to know why that is the case. We found that there is a wide range of types of discrimination. Usually, several reasons lead to a discrimination, including ethnic background, gender and marital status.”
In the survey, more than half of the participants report that they have been discriminated in the past. The main fear of being discriminated was that because of financial incapacity.
Talking about her experiences Ms Kaiser adds:
“When people are on waiting lists for social housing - and some of them for more than ten years - we thought ‘How is this possible?’
Sometimes, out of this need, they are desperate and take an accommodation without a contract. Like that, landlords can do whatever they want.”
Ms Ganeto claims that the situation has worsened because of Covid 19, as more people have lost their jobs.
“Landlords are spoiled for choice and can impose the most impossible conditions, for example: No single parent, no children at all, no animals, two unlimited work contracts –they can ask for anything”, because they will always find someone who takes the offer.
It also appears that some agencies prefer to regularly offer short term contracts. Tenants have to sign and pay for the renewal of a short-term contract on a yearly basis for example. Naturally, this leads to great uncertainty on the tenants' side and also to extra costs each time.”
Both think that there are a couple of things that can be done to improve the situation:
“I think that we need to think about ‘alternative housing’, which in some cases can be better than living under bad conditions in an inadequate apartment. As an example, I could imagine to build high quality containers, the ones we know from temporary school buildings or so.” says Ms Ganeto and adds:
“I completely understand that the government cannot built thousands of affordable accommodations overnight but it would be much appreciated it they would look into alternative solutions. Those containers, for example, could provide some relief, if they are built on a high standard and monitored continuously once they are occupied.”
In general, she finds it important that landlords can also be held responsible in case of a problem, which, at the moment is not always the case:
“Someone who rents out an accommodation should be held responsible”, she says: “The law in Luxembourg does not provide enough rights for tenants and we also need to strengthen the enforcement of existing laws.” Concrete measures could include a rental price cap like it exists in other countries, or to further develop the idea of an anonymous allocation of apartments. “We definitely need more rights for tenants. Then we would not have the deficiencies that we have now.” she concludes.
Ms Ganeto believes that also a change in mind-set is necessary when it comes to social housing:
“In Luxembourg, the understanding is not that it is important to give a person who has some personal problems some sort of autonomy through accommodation, even though this would be a good foundation for a person to build on.”
The association's hope is, that at some point tenants are being entitled to getting more support and access to information but for that, financial support is needed.
“I think that it is in the interest of everyone, also the government, to create safety around the topic of living,” she adds.
To raise awareness, they regularly speak to decision makers:
“We meet with the different political parties. We want to maintain a dialog; it is important to stress that we are not against landlords. We would like to achieve better conditions, ideally for everyone: A good relationship between landlords and tenants should also be in the landlords’ interest and this is something we are counting on.” says Ms Ganeto, and she adds: We have some catching up to do in Luxembourg.”
The results of the discrimination survey are available upon request from “Mieterschutz” Luxembourg.