Judge Refuses to Hear Evidence in Housing Discrimination Case After Entry into Force of Slovak Anti-Discrimination Law
16 December 2004
On July 2, 2004, Ms Zuzana Riganová, a judge with Bratislava’s Ninth District Court refused to hear evidence in a housing discrimination case brought by Ms Jolana Sarkezyová, a 70-year-old Romani woman, according to the ERRC’s Bratislava-based partner organisation League of Human Rights Advocates (LHRA). The LHRA informed the ERRC that Ms Sarkezyová filed a case against the Municipality of Karlova Ves, which is attempting to evict her from the flat in which she had lived for fourteen years. Ms Sarkezyová, the only Romani tenant in her building, asked the court to quash the eviction notice levelled against her and order that she be permitted to purchase the flat, as she meets all the requirements.
In November 2003, Karlova Ves municipal authorities presented Ms Sarkezyová with a notice to quit, due to non-payment of rent, which stated that if she did not pay her rental debt in full within three months, she would be evicted. According to the LHRA, her son-in-law, whom the authorities had insisted she accept into her flat had, in fact, incurred the debt. However, Ms Sarkezyová reportedly borrowed money to pay off the debt, and then asked for permission to purchase her flat. On January 14, 2004, Ms Sarkezyová submitted her application to purchase the flat and paid the necessary deposit. Ms Sarkezyová informed the LHRA that a representative of the municipality stated she could pick-up ownership documents for the flat on January 21. When she returned on the set date, the director of the housing authority informed Ms Sarkezyová that the Mayor of Karlova Ves had torn her application into pieces and stated that she belonged in the “Romani settlement”, not among non-Roma. Ms Sarkezyová’s rent was then increased from 6,000 to 11,500 Slovak crowns (from approximately 150 to 285 Euro), making her rent the highest of the thirty-five tenants of her building.
According to the LHRA, just after the hearing started, Judge Riganová ordered Ms Sarkezyová not to talk of discrimination because she would not “entertain such nonsense”. Judge Riganová also reportedly refused to examine the evidence presented by Ms Sarkezyová’s attorney. The LHRA informed the ERRC that the legal representative of the Karlova Ves municipality then presented its case and stated that it was willing to settle the case out of court on the condition that Ms Sarkezyová were housed in another area. In her concluding statement, Judge Riganová reportedly told Ms Sarkezyová that she would be well advised to co-operate with the municipality or risk being thrown out of her home. Article 5(2(d)) of Slovakia’s new Act on Equal Treatment in Certain Areas and Protection against Discrimination prohibits discrimination against persons in access to housing on the basis of sex, race or national or ethnic origin. Attorney Dušan Kleiman took over legal representation for Ms Sarkezyová. On October 5, 2004, the ERRC submitted an amicus brief to the court on the issue of shifting the burden of proof. At a hearing on October 8, 2004, the court issued a judgement in favour of Ms Sarkezyová, declaring invalid the municipality’s notice to quit.