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Why was the practice needed?

UNIA’s report on the barometer of diversity in the area of housing from 2014 revealed clear patterns of discrimination (see related practice in this compendium). As a result, the Brussels Capital Region decided to launch two waves of situation testing between 2016 and 2017 to shed light on the prevalence of discriminatory practices among real estate agencies.

The ultimate objective was to reduce discrimination of potential tenants in the rental market by real estate agencies.

The data collected will enable public services in Brussels to adopt targeted measures to combat discrimination. This includes awareness raising and training activities.

It will also enable Brussels to investigate discriminatory practices, and if necessary, to apply administrative sanctions when discriminatory practices have been found.

How was it implemented?

The Brussels Capital Region commissioned researchers from the Free University of Brussels to conduct discrimination testing, under the direction of Professor Pieter-Paul Verhaeghe.

There were two parts to the tests: situation testing and mystery shopping.

  • Situation testing consists of creating interactions between the lease owner or real estate agent with two potential tenants, fictitious or real, with similar profiles, except for the characteristic for which they can be discriminated against. The two situations are subsequently compared to determine whether there has been a difference of treatment on the basis of the protected characteristic. For this study, researchers sent 10,978 online messages and made 1,542 calls to real estate agents inquiring whether the accommodation was still available and whether they could view it. To avoid inconveniencing real estate agents, no actual meetings to view the property were scheduled. The study tested the grounds of ethnic origin, source of income (such as receiving welfare benefits, for example), family composition, age and physical/mental disability. Ethnic origin, source of income and family composition were also disaggregated by gender.
  • Mystery shopping is a method whereby potential clients request a goods or service provider to discriminate on their behalf. This allows researchers to instantly observe discriminatory intention. For this study, researchers made 648 phone calls to real estate agents, pretending to be potential home-owning clients, requesting to put their property on the market but asking the real estate agent not to let to people of foreign origin or people on social welfare. The ground of foreign origin was disaggregated by gender.


A report, Discrimination sur le marché locatif privé (agences immobilières) de la Région de Bruxelles-Capitale, was released in 2017. It contained the results from the two different types of testing. It also recommended actions to tackle discrimination.

It is available in French and Dutch, with an English summary.

In addition, in 2018, the Brussels Capital Region launched an internet communication campaign targeting real estate agencies to raise awareness of discriminatory practices in the sector. It also encouraged them to take action to ensure equal treatment in access to housing.

Furthermore, a training day for real estate agents active in Brussels was held in 2018. This allows them to comply with anti-discrimination law while also maintaining their clients.

The initiative feeds into the policy dialogue by providing very concrete recommendations based on the results of the study.

Authorities are currently in the process of drafting an ordinance to punish discriminatory housing practices in the Brussels Capital Region.

Key success factors

It is essential to prevent real estate agencies from detecting that they are being tested, as this influences the assessment of whether discrimination is taking place. The tests should not be leaked to the media, as this would also distort the assessment.

Technical information

  • Data sources covered: Discrimination testing.
  • Areas of life covered: Housing and living conditions.
  • Target audience: Real-estate agents, policy makers
  • Duration: 2016 – 2017
  • Geographical scope: Regional (the Brussels Capital Region)
  • Leading institution: Free University of Brussels
  • Other organisations involved/consulted: Unia (Interfederal Center for Equal Opportunities), IPI (Professional Institute of Real Estate Agents), the Cabinet of the Minister who is responsible for housing, and the Brussels Administration of Housing
  • Financial & human resources: Budget: €270,000; Source of the budget: Brussels Capital Region; Staff: No information provided


Brussels Regional Public Service

Kim Zangerlé

Email: kzangerle (at) sprb (dot) brussels