Oops. Wrong Skin Color? Manager is Liable for Discrimination of Prospected Tenants

Can the manager or the owner of real estate be held liable for pain and damages when he denies to rent to a prospective tenant exclusively on this person's skin color or foreign origin. This article reports on the judgment of OLG Cologne of January 19, 2010 (re 24 U 51/09).


A black couple from Africa was on apartment hunt and replied to an ad of a real estate manager and arranged an appointment to inspect the apartment. The appointment was met by the janitor. As she noticed with whom she was to meet, she replied "Keine Neger ... äh, Schwarzafrikaner oder Türken (no negroes ... um, black Africans or Turks)". The couple demanded damages and a recompense for pain and injury.

But who is responsible for this nonsense? The landlord? The manager? OLG Cologne said that the manager was to be held liable and merited paying (or deserved to pay) damages totaling € 5,056.

The grounds for this decision is found in the law of torts (§823 I BGB, "another right"). This "another right" is human dignity or general personal rights (art. 2 GG). This right has been infringed by the janitor. Her main intention was to ward off black persons. This exclusion and stigmatizing is grave.

  • The denomination as"Neger (negro)" is discriminatory in nowadays use, according to the court.
  • It is also an assault on human dignity when persons due to their skin color are denied the chance to rent a place to live.

However, the manager tried to excuse himself with the defense that the janitor is to be blamed because she was the one that spoke the insult. The court dismissed that defense! The manager used the janitor as a servant and remains liable (§831 BGB). The manager was hired by the landlord to rent out vacancies and organize everything for that. All candidates were to present themselves to him. When he relies on agents then he is responsible for their actions.


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