Why non-EU students find it difficult to find accommodation in Prague
On average, the country receives around 20,000 international students each year, and naturally one thing that is essential when moving to a new country for a year or two is finding a comfortable place to call home.
While Prague has a beautiful cityscape full of quaint apartment buildings, it also has one of the hottest real estate markets, with housing demand increasing by 19% in 2021.
With demand far outstripping supply, landlords are the gatekeepers and more often than not, students who come from non-European countries struggle to find accommodation.
While the Erasmus+ program supports the movement of students from other European countries, international students from places such as Cuba and Lebanon also represent the foreign population here in Czechia and Prague.
But why should it be difficult for a student from a non-EU country to find accommodation to rent in town? The average tuition fees for these students are almost double that of EU/EEA member states, which contributes significantly to the universities and the city’s income. Yet students from outside the EU/EEA are often greeted with a cold response from landlords when looking for accommodation. Luis Orlando Leon Carpio, a 32-year-old Cuban student studying his master’s degree here in Prague, says several doors were closed in his face before he realized what was going on.
“It affects your perception of society, because we would like to feel a little more welcome.”
When Luis started his search for an apartment, he was optimistic that he could find a nice space with two of his classmates who are from Brazil. However, the reality he faced was quite different from the one he envisioned.
“The narrative when we started looking for places was that it was quite simple, that we would be able to find a nice place in a certain period of time. And we kind of got comfortable, I think, about this story, but the reality was quite the opposite.
From texting landlords with no response to paying for subscription services on housing websites to research leads, time was running out when it came to finding accommodation. Carpio didn’t know why the band continually failed, until an experience with a real estate agent made it clear.
“It happened to us two or three times, the discrimination we faced, where we got a response and the officer asked us our nationality, and if any of us three were European. And when we said that we weren’t, they were like “I’m really sorry but it’s just a matter of owner preference, he prefers someone who is a Czech citizen, a Czech permanent resident or an EU citizen. “
On the rare occasions that Carpio and his friends received a response from a landlord who agreed to take them on as tenants, thousands of euros in bail were requested, a difficult feat for a group of students working on a budget.
“We found this apartment, and it wasn’t cheap. We each had to pay around 500 euros per month, plus a commission for a real estate agent, and the initial deposit was one month’s rent. But since none of us were from the EU, they increased the deposit to two months rent. So in the end we were paying around 1000 euros for a deposit only. We found it very expensive, given our expectations, and we are students, so keep in mind that we don’t have big incomes. We just considered it unfair to have to pay more for not being European.
Carpio’s case is not an isolated incident. We spoke with another student from Lebanon, who faced a similar situation when trying to find accommodation in Prague.
Sandra Abdelbaki is a 22-year-old Lebanese woman studying her master’s degree in journalism here in Prague.
“There were a lot of hurdles I would say, one of them is asking for over a month’s rent and a huge deposit. But also because I’m not from the EU I have to show some documents for my visa and my registration in the country, and many people thought it was difficult for them, so they would reject me just because it requires additional documentation.
From extra paperwork to hefty bail, Abdelbaki was even asked about her religion by the owners.
“Also, as someone from a non-EU country, I found it even more difficult as I was repeatedly asked where I am from, what is my religion and what I do here in the first place. I also had several rejections because I was not from the EU. ”
Abdelbaki was able to find temporary accommodation while she continued her apartment search in Prague, but that was because the woman renting the space was Arab herself and shared a similar experience to Abdelbaki, when she moved to the city for the first time.
“I ended up getting temporary accommodation through a girl who was Muslim, and she told me that she too had a lot of trouble finding accommodation herself, and she understood my situation. . She gave me the place because she said “okay, you’re Arab, I also encountered the same problems, so I think you should have this place too, I’m very open.”
Carpio and Abdelbaki’s experiences and difficulties are common for foreigners looking for apartments to rent in Prague, according to real estate agent and CEO of Philip & Frank Real Estate Services, Filip Šejvl.
“I think there is no difficulty in renting properties for foreigners if they come from the western world. I would say there is no difficulty if someone is from the EU, USA or Canada. But sometimes you can expect a kind of hesitation in the case of students or tenants coming from Eastern Europe, South Eastern Europe and Arab countries.
Šejvl also described how many landlords and landlords in Prague tend to shy away from international students due to their short period of stay, preferring to give places to tenants who will stay for a year or more.
“Especially foreign students who rent apartments in Prague, and I think it’s all over the world, they’re only here for 10 months, and most landlords want to rent for a minimum period of a year. I think that could be the biggest difficulty because in Prague, where the market is quite tight in terms of renting apartments, the landlord would of course choose someone who is going to take the apartment for at least a year, or the waiting to have a rental period of two or three years instead of 10 months.
But while landlords may prefer someone to rent their space for a longer period, it is still considered unethical and prohibited for them to make a decision about a tenant based on their religion, race or their gender. However, Šejvl explains that the language barrier between landlords and tenants is also a reason why landlords are hesitant towards people from outside the EU and the western part of the world.
“Of course it is something that is prohibited, owners cannot make decisions based on race, religious beliefs or gender. But of course, decisions are made based on language. Most Czech owned properties in Prague over the age of 40-50 don’t speak English so they don’t want to have a tenant who only speaks English as that means they can’t communicate with their tenant.
As elsewhere in the world, the war in Ukraine is also having an impact on the housing market. With the influx of Ukrainian refugees moving into apartments, combined with the arrival of new students in Prague, especially as corona fears have subsided, the market has become fiercely competitive, giving landlords a significant advantage and leaving students in a precarious position.
“There is no sign that the rents will come down, because the current situation is that there is nothing available on the market. So the owners have an advantage compared to the students who come, since the number of “students coming to Prague hasn’t decreased, especially after COVID. Basically, there’s nothing available for them, and I totally understand why it’s hard for a student to find an apartment.
Although non-EU students may face additional hurdles in terms of high filing, additional documentation and possible discrimination, they can still be prepared in advance. When it comes to looking for a place in Prague, Šejvl’s best advice for international students is to start the process as early as possible.
“Foreign students arrive too late to find their apartment, the semester starts in October, and they start looking for an apartment maybe two weeks before the rental period. Czech students start much earlier, mainly because they are here all year round. Also, September and October are the end of the season and there aren’t many apartments left in general.
Despite the stressful start for her here in Prague, Abdelbaki remains positive and enthusiastic about calling this new city her home.
“I’m actually very happy to be in Prague, I think it’s a very different city to where I was before, which is Denmark. I’m very excited to discover the city and to see how it will go, and I leave my expectations high even if the first phase was a bit difficult.