Out and Away: The Housing Rights Situation of Roma in Hungary

07 February 2004

Margaret Hagan and Tara Bedard1

Roma in Hungary largely live in segregation and poverty. Roma experience immense difficulty securing legal adequate housing in mixed neighbourhoods through either government or private housing offers. Widespread racial discrimination, unemployment and poverty reinforce the denial of Roma access to adequate housing. Government offices in Hungary offer little assistance to Roma in solving their housing dilemma. Forced evictions are increasingly carried out against Roma, often illegally and without any provision of alternative housing. Social housing and monetary assistance are often inaccessible to Roma because of severe restrictions on eligibility and discriminatory attitudes of local officials. Generally, Hungarian housing laws and policies exacerbate the situation of Roma rather than rectify it. In particular, it is of deep concern that, in recent years, many Hungarian municipalities have been selling off large parts of Hungary's already small social housing stock. Roma, excluded from social programmes, are found to be living in substandard housing conditions, which result in a range of other social and economic problems, including, but not limited to, the denial of access to quality education.

In an attempt to document the extent of spatial segregation of Roma in Hungary, and also to determine whether or not forced evictions disproportionately affect Roma, with the assistance of funding provided by the British Embassy in Budapest and the Norwegian Foreign Ministry, the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) conducted research in several Hungarian localities with large Romani populations, in co-operation with a team of independent researchers.2 Research was conducted in Budapest's Eighth District, Debrecen, Hajdúhadház, Keszthely, Ózd and Veszprém. While each locality was found to possess its own particular problems, there existed a common trend of Roma living in substandard conditions in segregated neighbourhoods.

Widespread Segregation

In Hungary, according to a sociological survey, 29 percent of the Romani population live in completely segregated circumstances and another 23 percent live in settlements in which the proportion of Roma is very high. Only a relatively small percentage (14 percent) of Roma have succeeded in breaking out of the segregated settlements.3 In its most extreme form, the segregation of Roma in Hungary was manifested in the construction of a wall physically separating one Romani community from the rest of Hungary. The central Hungarian town of Keszthely constructed a segregative wall around a local Romani community, according to ERRC field research from October 8, 2003. The Romani community concerned comprised six homes, occupied by six families, just outside Keszthely along the highway to Hévíz. A wall constructed of wooden planks, approximately eight to 10 feet tall and around 100 feet in length, with two entrances only large enough for a car, ran the full length of the settlement in front of the homes, parallel to the highway. Ms Erika Sallai, a Romani woman from the settlement, testified to the ERRC that no one in the community had been either consulted or informed about the wall prior to its construction: "That wall was built about two months ago. [...] Construction workers just appeared one morning and began to make a lot of noise. We went outside and saw that they were building a wall. They wanted to block the whole settlement, but we fought, so they left two entrances in the wall. Animals don't even get this treatment." Mr Aladár Szigligeti, head of the Building Authority, told ERRC staff, "The local government is responsible for building the wall. It was needed because of the animals owned by the inhabitants and because of the spectacle the area creates for tourists." Mr Szigligeti claimed that the wall was a temporary solution. The wall was destroyed several days after the ERRC visit. On October 15, 2003, Keszthely Deputy Mayor, Mr Ferenc Zámankovics, refused to send any public decision or other document related to the construction or destruction of the wall to the ERRC, after being formally requested to do so on October 10, 2003.4

ERRC research in the eastern Hungarian city Debrecen revealed that approximately 60 percent of the city's Romani population, or around 5,000 people, live at the periphery of the city in so-called "Gypsy colonies", named Nagy Sándor, Biczó István, Domokos Márton and Bayk András. One lawyer with whom the ERRC spoke stated that such settlements only came into existence after 1992. At this time, the local government conducted large-scale evictions of Roma from the city centre under the guise of a "cleaning programme".5 Similarly segregated settlements or streets exist in the centre of Debrecen; the Kishegyesi Street and Hadházi Street settlements are almost exclusively Romani. In the eastern Hungarian city of Hajdúhadház, 95 percent of the Romani population, or 3,000 people, live at the edge of the city in five separate settlements - Irinyi, Vasúti, Szőlős, Oncsa and Márvány, the last three inhabited exclusively by Roma. According to ERRC research, the settlements were formed after 1990. At that time, many Romani families moved to the town in an attempt to solve their housing problems. The local government reportedly purchased plots of land on the periphery of the city that they sold for as little as 80,000 Hungarian forints (the equivalent of approximately 305 euro today) to Roma. Reportedly around 90 percent of the persons who received land here were Romani.6

In the northern Hungarian city of Ózd, almost 40 percent of the Romani population live in Kiserdőalja and Hétes, segregated Romani settlements, or in primarily Romani streets. In recent years, the Ózd Property Management Office has advanced the segregation of Roma in the city by demolishing the two main social tenement blocks in which Roma lived. The tenements that were destroyed contained 350 flats which housed approximately 1,260 people, most of whom were Roma, according to ERRC research. Eighty percent of these tenants were in arrears, and almost 380 of them had already received eviction orders when their homes were destroyed. Ms Anna Papp, head of the Ózd Property Management Office attributed the miserable state of the buildings to the "systemic destruction" carried out by tenants. However, the Ózd Property Management Office allocated a decreasing amount of money to property maintenance, reportedly as a result of non-payment of rent by tenants. The Property Management Office then destroyed the buildings, because of the poor condition they were in.7 Many Roma were displaced within the city to segregated settlements, because following the destruction of their flats, they were unable to secure legal housing elsewhere within the city of Ózd.

ERRC research in the central Hungarian city Veszprém revealed that a targeted campaign of the local authorities has virtually cleansed the city of Roma during the last four years. In 1998, approximately 200 Romani families lived in Veszprém; at the time of ERRC research in early 2003, only around 50 families remained, 20 of whom lived in the social tenement refered to by locals as the "infernal tower", with the rest residing in segregated neighbourhoods, away from the centre of town. Under the pretence of a town rehabilitation programme, city officials have effectively removed almost all Roma from Veszprém. Mr István Schmidt of the Veszprém Property Management Office informed the ERRC that the aim of the programme was to abolish the deteriorated conditions in the Old Town and the Castle District and to increase the comfort level of city residents, particularly those living in the Castle District.8 Beginning in 1998, Romani families living in poor conditions were made lucrative offers by the local government to leave their homes, particularly those located near the city's Castle District and Old Town. All but five to eight of the families legally occupied their homes, but had reportedly incurred large debts to the public utilities company.9 Nearly every family accepted the local government's offer and left the city. Others resisted the local government's offer but were pressured to accept it: According to Mr Béla Erdélyi, President of the Veszprém Roma Minority Self-Government, his brother's family initially refused the local government's offer for their flat, but were told by local authorities, "If you don't take the money we'll put you into another place that's much worse."10 The family reportedly accepted the local government's offer out of fear. In exchange for leaving their homes, their debts were forgiven and the families each received between 2 and 5 million Hungarian forints (approximately 8,000-20,000 Euro). According to Mr Erdélyi, most Roma who wished to remain in the city were unable to do so because the sum received from the government was not enough to cover the high property prices in the city. Most were, therefore, forced to move to villages. One family reportedly bought a home in the village of Ősi, but neighbours reportedly forced the family to move, according to an interview with Mr János Babai, representative of the Berhida Roma Minority Self-Government.11 The family moved on to the village of Pétfürdő where, at the time of the ERRC interview, they lived in makeshift huts on a garbage dump. Many could not get used to rural life, so they sold their homes for considerably less than they had bought them for and moved back to Veszprém to the "infernal tower". Others moved to Canada, but have since been deported back to Hungary, and now live either with relatives or in social tenements in poor condition.12

Substandard Living Conditions

Romani settlements in Hungary are largely unfit for living. ERRC research in Debrecen, Hajdúhadház, and Ózd revealed a lack of basic infrastructure and services, including street lighting, solid road surfaces, garbage collection, drainage and sewage systems, telephone lines, medical care, access to public transportation and access to emergency services. Often, electricity and gas are not available in all homes and potable water is available only at a public pump located hundreds of meters from the homes. Roma from the Nagy Sándor settlement in Debrecen, for example, gather water from a pump located more than half a kilometre from the settlement. A Romani resident of state-owned housing in Debrecen's Domokos Márton Garden reported that she did not have access to water, though she was forced to pay for it.13 The approximately one hundred Romani residents of the area were forced to share one toilet located in a yard. In Hajdúhadház, public water pumps do not exist in the Irinyi, Oncsa and Márvány settlements, so the Romani residents have to walk 300-to-700 metres from the settlements for potable water. In Ózd, according to ERRC research, approximately 30 percent of the Romani homes in the segregated areas of Kiserdőalja and Hétes do not have running water and lack access to gas. Roma in these areas mainly heat their homes by burning wood. The streets are also pocked with large holes.

Many of the homes in which Roma live are makeshift constructs. In Debrecen, most of the Romani homes are one-story buildings made of brick or mud, and they lack interior sanitary facilities. However, some of the Roma with whom the ERRC met during research, such as those living in the Nagy Sándor settlement, live in homes made of cardboard or other scrap materials and do not have solid walls. The homes in which Roma live in Hajdúhadház are made of cardboard, wooden planks, scrap metal and other miscellaneous materials. In Ózd, the home of one Romani man with whom the ERRC met was, in the early spring, declared life-threatening by the local government, although he had only purchased the home in March 2003.14 In Budapest's Eighth District, the flats of the Roma with whom the ERRC met had running water, though no hot water. Those Romani families who were living in flats without legal permission or were indebted either did not have electricity, gas or hot water, or stole it from common lines running through the buildings.

The homes in which Roma were found to be living during ERRC research were disproportionately small, given the number of people per household. Most of the Romani homes in Debrecen's Nagy Sándor settlement were only one room of between 5 to 10 square metres. Roma in the segregated areas of Ózd live, on average, with 3.5 tenants per room. Out of 28 families surveyed, 26 lived in a one-room flat. Roma with whom the ERRC met in Budapest's Eighth District were mostly found to be living in flats measuring around 20 square metres. In the majority of cases, four people were found to be living in such flats, meaning that each person had on average 4-to-5 square metres of living space. In extreme situations, families of more than six people were living in such flats, while other flats were less than 10 square metres. For example, Ms P. lived in a 9-square-metre flat with her four children,15 while Ms S. lived with her six children in a 26-square-metre flat.16

The hygienic conditions of the Romani settlements visited by the ERRC were poor. Garbage littered the streets of Romani neighbourhoods and rancid odours emanated throughout the open areas. In Romani settlements in Debrecen, inhabitants are forced to burn their garbage because local authorities do not collect it. In the Hétes Romani settlement in Ózd, for example, at the time of the ERRC visit in early 2003, mud reached ankle-height in the streets, due to poor drainage, and garbage, partially brought into the settlement from other areas of the city, covered the streets. The unhygienic conditions of the settlement lead to an outbreak of Hepatitis-A in September 2003. According to a report by the Budapest-based Roma Press Center (RSK), the chief medical officer of Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén County, to which Ózd administratively belongs, attributed the outbreak to the lack of very basic hygienic and living requirements in the local Romani settlements.17 According to the report, 75 percent of the Hepatitis-A cases registered in Hungary in 2002 were in Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén County.

Forced Evictions

Over the past decade, Roma have been evicted from their residences in Hungary by local authorities with increasing and alarming regularity. According to monitoring of the Hungarian national daily newspaper Népszabadság during the period between January 1, 2003 and November 1, 2003, in 55 percent of eviction or threatened eviction cases reported, the victims were identified as Romani, while Roma officially comprise only 1.4 percent of the total population in Hungary.18 Non-governmental organisations in Hungary have estimated that the number of forced evictions of Roma rose from two to three per month in 1999 to three to four per week in 2000.19 In his 2000 Report, the Hungarian Parliamentary Commissioner for Ethnic and Minority Rights stated the majority of complaints received by his office concerning abusive actions by the local authorities in the area of housing had been filed by Roma.20

Evictions have often been conducted in an illegal manner, with results banned under international law. A recent change in Hungarian law has resulted in the increased frequency of forced evictions of Roma. Previously, an eviction could only be implemented by an employee of the municipality. However, since 2000, local notaries have been empowered to order evictions. When a notary orders an eviction, police must implement it within eight days.21 Moreover, according to the amended law, judicial appeals against such notary-ordered evictions do not have suspensive effect. The provisions of the amendment are unclear, and have left open the possibility of infection by racial bias. Notary evictions are frequently employed against Roma.

The amended law gives property-owners the right to request an eviction of arbitrary occupants22 from the local notary within 60 days of taking possession of the property, provided there is no court procedure already in progress.23 According to the notary in Miskolc, in a number of cases, evictions have been temporarily suspended because information supplied by a local government's Property Management Office had been called into question. However, the notary stated, the evictions were generally subsequently implemented as the eviction orders were not cancelled.24

All evictions, regardless of whether ordered by a notary or a court, must be carried out according to certain procedures. In accordance with Hungarian law, officials must deliver notice to the occupant of the upcoming eviction two days before the eviction is scheduled to take place.25 In accordance with international standards, the state must take steps to ensure the provision of alternative accommodation to evicted persons unable to provide such for themselves.26 However, regulations on notary-ordered evictions provide only for storage of possessions of the expelled resident, not for alternate accommodation. Rarely is alternative accommodation offered to Roma who have been forcibly evicted, according to the ERRC's research.

In Keszthely, Ms Erika Sallai informed the ERRC that on October 7, 2003, an unknown man served five Romani heads of families from the settlement with eviction orders. Ms Sallai reported that the homes in which the Roma lived, without legal permission, were the property of the local government. According to the eviction orders of Ms Sallai, her husband Mr György Bodgán and Mr Jószef Titi, the eviction was to be conducted at 10:00, on October 29, 2003, in the presence of police officers. Ms Sallai and Mr Titi stated that they had not received any offer for alternative accommodation from the local government and that, as they are unemployed, they cannot afford other housing. In total, Romani residents, including Romani children, faced homelessness as a result of the impending eviction. Some of the Roma concerned had lived in their homes for as long as 11 years. On October 21, 2003, the ERRC sent a letter of concern to Mr Jószef Mohácsi, Keszthely's Mayor, informing him that forced evictions violate Hungary's obligations under domestic and international law and requesting that the evictions be postponed or cancelled, particularly with the coming of cold weather. On November 5, 2003, the Roma informed the ERRC that none of the families had been evicted. Local authorities reportedly postponed the eviction due to the onset of cold weather.

Earlier, on October 2, 2003, eight Romani adults were evicted from their homes in the southern Hungarian city of Dunaújváros, following a decision by the local government. The evicted Roma reportedly moved to a homeless shelter following the eviction. The eviction of six Romani families with children from the same building was reportedly postponed for two weeks.

On June 18, 2003, 20 Romani families were evicted from the homes they occupied on Szállás Street in Budapest's Tenth District, according to the Foundation for Romani Civil Rights. According to the June 25, 2003 newsletter of the Budapest-based Roma Press Center (RSK), two small children, aged 1 and 5, were taken into state custody on grounds that they had been raised in surroundings immediately jeopardising their physical health. On November 28, 2003, the Foundation for Romani Civil Rights informed the ERRC that the local government had provided alternative accommodation for only two of the families. The Foundation for Romani Civil Rights reportedly found flats for three additional families in Budapest and four people moved into homeless shelters. The remaining families moved in with relatives in the countryside.

In May 2003, representatives of the Debrecen local government and local police evicted the family of Ms Erika Balogh from the home they occupied in the Nagy Sándor settlement. The family's home and possessions were destroyed. Ms Balogh stated that the family had had standing applications for social housing in Debrecen for 14 years to no avail.27

In March 2003, the family of Ms Barnáné Balogh, which includes a number of children below the age of 18, was evicted from the home they occupied in Debrecen's Nagy Sándor settlement, but moved back into the house shortly thereafter because they were not provided with alternative accommodation and had nowhere else to go. The family had reportedly applied for social housing in Debrecen for more than 10 years, unsuccessfully.28

In March 2003, the five-member family of Mr A., a 37-year-old Romani man, raising three young children, was evicted, reportedly without prior notice, for the second time from the flat in which they lived after they moved back into it following their initial court-ordered eviction in late October 2002. Mr A.'s father, with whom the family had lived, had had a legal contract with the city for the flat. When Mr A.'s father passed away, the family remained in the flat but did not change the contract. At the time of the eviction, in March 2003, the children were taken into state care until Mr A.'s wife moved in with her mother and she was able to regain custody of them. Mr A.was forced to live in a 4-square-metre shack in the yard outside his mother-in-law's flat.29

In the summer of 2002, Mr I., a Romani man, and his six-member family, which includes four young children, was evicted from the flat they illegally occupied in Budapest's Nineth District. As the family was not provided with alternative accommodation, they were arbitrarily occupying a 24 square metre flat with no electricity or running water in Budapest's Eighth District at the time of the ERRC interview in April 2003.30

In the spring of 2002, Ms P., a Romani woman, and her four children, were evicted without any notice from the flat she had occupied in Budapest's Nineth District for a year and a half. Because Ms P. and her children were not provided with alternative accommodation, at the time of the ERRC interview, they illegally occupied a 9-square-metre flat in Budapest's Eighth District.31

In early 2002, Mr V., a Romani man, was evicted from a flat he illegally occupied in Budapest's Eighth District the same day he entered it. Mr V. and his mother lived in a 26-square-metre flat without electricity or running water at the time of the ERRC interview.32

Forced evictions reinforce the spatial segregation of Roma in Hungary. Roma living as illegal occupants, as typified by the Roma with whom the ERRC met in Budapest's Eighth District, are more likely to occupy flats in areas mainly inhabited by Roma, at least in part because non-Romani neighbours apparently report them to the local authorities more frequently than Romani neighbours. Roma living in already tenuous circumstances, therefore, appear in some cases to choose to live in segregated neighbourhoods for reasons related to possible security.

Government Actions Exacerbate the Problem

The post-communist transition in Hungary has given rise to a complex of issues, which have, in recent years, combined to render the housing situation of many Roma in Hungary at crisis proportions. In the first place, as income disparities widen, Roma frequently find themselves among the poor or extremely poor. Secondly, local authorities have in a number of years sold off public (including social) housing stocks in order to compensate for declining revenues, creating a situation in which Hungary may not be able in practice to meet the housing needs of the poor and/or extremely poor. In addition, as detailed below, a number of local authorities have adopted very arbitrary rules as to eligibility for public (including social) housing, rules which, in practice, may preclude many Roma from eligibility. Finally, widespread anti-Romani sentiment in Hungary means that, unfortunately, allegations of racial discrimination in allocation of public housing are often plausible.

Certain legal provisions and government programmes in Hungary make already vulnerable persons less likely to be able to access to state-provided housing. While such provisions appear to be neutral on their face, the extent of poverty among Roma compared to non-Roma in Hungary means that such provisions disproportionately impact the Romani population. According to the World Bank, 40.3 percent of Roma in Hungary fall below the absolute poverty line of 4.30 USD purchasing power parity per capita, compared to only 6.9 percent of non-Roma.33

During the course of its research, the ERRC found that many local governments have enacted decisions that prohibit persons caught illegally occupying property from accessing social housing, generally for a period of between three and five years.34 In an extreme instance, a representative of the Debrecen local government stated that illegal occupants are denied access to social housing for a period of 10 years.35 Out of 28 Romani families surveyed in segregated settlements in Ózd, 17, or approximately 60 percent, reported that they could not apply for social housing because they had previously been caught illegally occupying property in the city. In Budapest, Ms N.T., a 50-year-old Romani woman, told the ERRC that she had applied several times for social housing from Budapest's Eighth District authorities, but was rejected because the family had occupied several places without permission. Ms N.T.'s 10-member family, including 6 children below the age 18, illegally occupied a 24-square-metre flat in Budapest's Eighth District at the time of ERRC research.36 The family had also reportedly been rejected for financial aid by the local government. Ms S., a 36-year-old Romani woman, applied for social housing with authorities at both city level and in Budapest's Eighth District in July 2002, when she and her six children received a court order to leave her flat, but she was rejected by both offices. Ms S. had been caught renting a social flat from the legal tenant, though such an arrangement is not legal. Ms P., a Romani woman with four young children living in Budapest's Eighth District, informed the ERRC that she had applied for social housing a number of times, but had been rejected because she had been evicted several times before from flats she had occupied without legal permission. Ms P. and her children lived in a 9-square-metre flat that they illegally occupied at the time of the ERRC interview in May 2003.

Local governments further block needy Roma from access to social housing by distributing social housing via public auction. According to ERRC research in Debrecen, available social tenements are advertised for rent in the local media by Civis Ház Ltd., with bids ranging between 18,000 and 40,000 Hungarian forints (approximately 70 to 155 Euro). Such prices are often too high for Roma. Ms Ildiko Batizi, head of the non-governmental organisation Provisional Homes for Families explained, "It is very hard to get a social flat in Debrecen because of the bidding. Only a person who offers the highest price gets the flat. Nowadays, social flats can cost up to 40,000 forints per month. Most Gypsies have no possibility to pay this amount."37 In Hajdúhadház, social flats available for rent are also distributed through public auction, though such auctions are not generally advertised. Reportedly, auctions are sometimes announced to only a few people, generally those with ties to the local government. Romani residents in Hajdúhadház report that they do not receive notification that social flats will be auctioned off. Only houses in poor condition and located near existing Romani settlements were advertised. There are currently around a hundred social flats in Hajdúhadház, according to Mr Levente Kis of the Association for Hajdúhadház, but not a single Romani family occupies a social flat in the town.38 Roma frequently cannot afford to bid high enough to secure a publicly owned flat in such an auction, or they are not even notified that the auctions occur. The public auction schemes in Debrecen and Hajdúhadház effectively block Roma from accessing social housing.

A number of Roma with whom the ERRC met reported that non-Roma received preferential treatment in the allocation of social housing. Mr László Botos, a Romani man from Debrecen, stated, "The authorities always say the waiting list is long, but non-Roma always receive flats first."39 Mr Gábor Balogh, another Romani man from Debrecen, stated, "Local authorities won't do anything for us. Even in the Mayor's Office they won't see us. They always find an excuse. [...] So, how can I solve my flat problems?"40 Mr I., a Romani man living in Budapest's Eighth District with his wife and four small children, stated that he often visits the local government to apply for social housing but is told that there are no available flats. However, Mr I. stated that he knows the location of available flats. In the meanwhile, he and his family occupy a 24-square-metre-flat.41

In other cases, Roma reported to the ERRC that local governments place stipulations on eligibility for housing assistance that effectively deny them access to such and prevent them from improving their housing situations. Mr László Botos, a Romani man from Debrecen, stated "Lots of Gypsy families suffer in expensive and small rented flats, [because] they can't claim housing assistance, they don't have the money".42 For example, some local governments, such as Budapest's Eighth District and Ózd, reportedly require social housing applicants to possess large amounts of money before considering their applications. During interviews with the local government in Ózd, it was revealed that authorities distinguish between applicants of similar background by comparing their financial situation, due to the high number of applications for each tenement available in the city. The town council reportedly gives preference to families who can prove savings in advance and who will be able to fund their own housing in a few years, with the help of a state-subsidised loan. This all but completely excludes persons who are unemployed and/or relying on social welfare - as is the situation of many Roma in Ózd - from accessing social housing.

In many of the Romani communities that the ERRC visited during the course of research, it was reported that local government officials were simply unwilling to assist Roma. For example, in early 2003, the ERRC accompanied three Romani women, including one pregnant woman, to the Ózd Property Management Office so they could check their records to determine the amount of money they owed. The women were reportedly forced to wait for seven hours before Ms Andrea Papp, head of the Office, finally provided the women access to their records, thought they were not allowed to take notes or make any copies.

The local government in Ózd generally appears to lack the will to realise programmes aimed at assisting the local Romani community. Several years ago, Mr D., a Romani man from Ózd, applied for a local-government home-building subsidy,43 offered to persons who already own land supplied with infrastructure (electricity, sewage, etc.). Many Roma were excluded to from the programme because they could not afford to purchase such land. Therefore, in 1996, the local and national Roma Minority Self-Government negotiated with the local authorities to provide land with infrastructure free of charge to Roma from Ózd, near the segregated Hétes Romani settlement. However, at the time of ERRC research in early 2003, land had been made available to local Roma and Mr D. had still not received the subsidy. Mr István Mátyás, a Romani man from Ózd, stated that when he applied for a plot of land, the former Mayor told him that state support does not exist in Ózd.44

Similarly, local authorities in Debrecen refused to help Ms Melinda Kiss, a 22-year-old Romani woman attending university in the city, when her assigned non-Romani roommate in her state-provided flat abused and threatened her. Beginning in 2000, when her roommate moved in, Ms Kiss testified, her roommate constantly insulted and abused her, reportedly calling her a "smelly Gypsy" and saying such things as "If I knew that I'd have to share the flat with a Gypsy, I'd have rather been homeless." Ms Kiss stated that her roommate threatened physical violence if she did not pay the full amount of the bills they were supposed to share. Ms Kiss complained to the local council but was reportedly offered no assistance; the police offered no assistance either, reportedly stating, "If we went to investigate every case of this kind, we would just run around all day." Ms Kiss was forced to move out of the state-supported flat and in with her family in Bagamér, so she must commute to Debrecen every day. 45

The ERRC also received numerous reports that law enforcement officials interfere in the ability of Roma to legally access social housing. In Budapest's Eighth District, for example, it was reported that police officers have blackmailed Roma into renouncing their rental contracts, forcing them to become illegal occupants. For example, Ms K., a 46-year-old Romani woman, was arrested in 2001 for rooming prostitutes in her flat. Ms K. testified to the ERRC that she was only released from police custody after she signed a declaration nullifying her rental contract. At the time of ERRC research, she, her 19-year-old daughter and infant grandchild were considered illegal occupants.46

Difficulty Renting Private Property

Roma also experience tremendous difficulty renting or purchasing private property in Hungary. Many Roma with financial resources sufficient to rent housing are often are rejected by potential non-Romani landlords due to their ethnicity. Many private property owners are deeply prejudiced against Roma and refuse to rent to them. In Debrecen, for instance, five out of 10 property owners contacted by the ERRC via telephone with property advertised for rent refused to even meet with the Romani researcher after being informed of his ethnicity. During similar testing47 conducted in the course of ERRC research, a Romani researcher, his wife and three children attempted to rent 10 available flats. Seven property owners refused rental; five because the test family was "Gypsy" and two because of the number of children. The flats were located in integrated neighbourhoods in central Debrecen. Even in cases in which the property owner claims to not be prejudiced against Roma, he or she still, in many cases, will not rent to Roma. The reasons reported for this ranged from fear of what their neighbours may think or do to fear that his or her property will decrease in value if Roma move into the neighbourhood. Ms D., a Romani woman living in Budapest's Eighth District, informed the ERRC that she had unsuccessfully searched for rental accommodation for a very long time. "It is no use to put on your nice clothes. When they (property owners) see I am Romani, they won't give me the apartment."48 The inability to access private accommodation contributes to the great numbers of Romani families forced to settle for substandard housing in segregated neighbourhoods on the periphery of cities.

Nexus: Housing Rights and Other Fundamental Rights

The housing situation of Roma in Hungary directly affects the ability of Roma to access other fundamental rights and freedoms. Most significantly, the problems of segregation and forced eviction experienced by many Roma in Hungary affect the education of Romani children. The large-scale eviction of Roma from city centres has forced Roma into segregated settlements on the outskirts of various cities. Romani children living in these settlements frequently attend segregated schools that offer substandard education, thereby decreasing their opportunities later in life.

Forced evictions also affect the education of Romani children in that, once forcibly evicted, it is likely that a person or family will be evicted in the future. Indeed, many of the forcibly evicted Roma with whom the ERRC spoke had been evicted on many occasions in the past. Many Roma in Hungary who are subjected to forced evictions or live in segregated settlements on the outskirts of cities are not legally registered. Persons must have a residence legally registered with the local government before their children may be enrolled in a local school in Hungary. Therefore, many Romani children are precluded from enrolling in and attending school. For example, Ms S., a Romani woman from Budapest's Eighth District, reported that local schools refused to enroll her six children as they are not legally registered in the District. Accordingly, the Centre for Family Aid arranged the enrolment of her children at a school for the mentally handicapped, far from their residence.49

Many Roma also reported that the substandard conditions in which they live prohibit them from sending their children to school. For instance, Romani children from the Nagy Sándor settlement in Debrecen, in which there is no source of water, do not attend school because non-Romani children harass them, because they are unable to bathe or wash their clothes regularly.

A significant portion of the Romani population in Hungary lives in a state of marginalisation from the majority society. Widespread racial discrimination reinforces the denial of Roma access to adequate housing. Government offices in Hungary have enacted policies that indirectly discriminate against Roma and, at times, fail to provide effective remedies to Romani victims of housing rights violations, which strengthens their level of segregation.50 Romani residents of segregated neighbourhoods in Hungary frequently lack legal security of tenure, which greatly increases the likelihood of forced eviction. Roma are increasingly subjected to forced evictions, often without the provision of alternative housing. Many Roma, particularly those who lack legal security of tenure or who have been identified as illegal occupants, are in some municipalities ineligible for social housing. Adequate housing is similarly unavailable to a number of Roma who do not possess the large sums of money required by many local governments in Hungary in order to secure social housing. Roma living in substandard housing conditions are further unable to access a range of other fundamental rights, most notably the right to education, as well as the right to the highest attainable standards of physical and mental health.


  1. Margaret Hagan authored drafts of this report. Ms Hagan is a volunteer at the ERRC and a student of the Nationalism Studies Master's Programme at Central European University. Tara Bedard rewrote and expanded drafts of the report. Ms Bedard is Researcher/News Editor at the ERRC.
  2. Mr Béla Berkes and Mr Ern? Kadét undertook research in Ózd and Veszprém. Mr Adam Abon-Horváth, Ms Éva Csikí and Ms Andrea Mohácsi undertook research in Debrecen and Hajdúhadház. Ms Laura Baranyi, Ms Flora László and Mr Márton Oblath undertook research in Budapest's Eighth District. ERRC staff members and volunteers engaged in additional research on an as-needed basis.
  3. See Havas, Gábor, István Kemény, and Ilona Liskó. Cigány gyerekek az általános iskolában. Oktatáskutató Intézet, 2001, Budapest.
  4. ERRC telephone interview with Mr Ferenc Zámankovics, Deputy Mayor of Keszthely. October 15, 2003.
  5. ERRC interview with Ms Ildikó Batizi, head of the state-run Provisional Home of Families. April 2003. Debrecen.
  6. ERRC interviews with Mr József Hortó, president of the Hajdúhadház Roma Minority Self-Government, and Mr Levente Kis of the Association of Hajdúhadház. April 2003. Hajdúhadház.
  7. ERRC interview with Ms Anna Papp, head of the Ózd Property Management Office. July 2003. Ózd.
  8. ERRC interview with Mr István Schmidt, representative of the Veszprém Property Management Office. April 2003. Veszprém.
  9. ERRC interview with Mr János Babai, representative of the Berhida Gypsy Minority Self-Government. April 2003. Berhida.
  10. ERRC interview with Mr Béla Erdélyi, president of the Veszprém Gypsy Minority Self-Government. April 2003. Berhida. 
  11. ERRC interview with Mr János Babai, representative of the Berhida Gypsy Minority Self-Government. April 2003. Berhida.
  12. ERRC interview with Béla Erdélyi, president of the Veszprém Gypsy Minority Self-Government. April 2003. Berhida.
  13. ERRC interview with Ms Lászlóné Varga, October 2003, Debrecen.
  14. ERRC interview with Mr D. April 2003. Ózd.
  15. ERRC interview with Ms P., a Romani woman. May 2003. Budapest.
  16. ERRC interview with Ms S., a 36-year-old Romani woman. April 2003. Budapest.
  17. Roma Press Center (RSK). "Hepatitis-A Diagnosed in Ózd". September 16, 2003.
  18. Data from the European Parliament's Country Profile on Hungary.
  19. Open Society Institute, EU Accession Monitoring Program 2001. "Minority Protection", pp. 234-235.
  20. Parliamentary Commissioner for Ethnic and Minority Rights. Report 2000. Available at: http://www.obh.hu/nekh/en/reports/reports.htm
  21. The Housing Act 1993/LXXVII, as amended by Act 2000/XLI.  
  22. The Housing Act 1993/LXXVII defines an arbitrary occupant as "one who breaks into an empty space or flat". Unofficial translation by the ERRC.  
  23. The Housing Act 1993/LXXVII, as amended by Act 2000/XLI. 
  24. ERRC interview with Dr László Szádeczki. July 2003. Miskolc. 
  25. The Housing Act 1993/LXXVII, as amended by Act 2000/XLI. 
  26. In its General Comment 7, the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) stated, "Evictions should not result in individuals being rendered homeless or vulnerable to the violation of other human rights. Where those affected are unable to provide for themselves, the State party must take all appropriate measures, to the maximum of its available resources, to ensure that adequate alternative housing, resettlement or access to productive land, as the case may be, is available." The CESCR monitors states' compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, to which Hungary is a party. CESCR: "General Comment 7. The right to adequate housing (art. 11.1 of the Covenant): forced evictions." May 20, 1997, para. 16. 
  27. ERRC interview with Ms Erika Balogh. October 2003. Debrecen. 
  28. ERRC interview with Ms Erika Balogh. October 2003. Debrecen.
  29. ERRC interview with Ms Barnáné Balogh. October 2003. Debrecen.
  30. ERRC interview with Mr A. May 2003. Budapest.
  31. ERRC interview with Ms P. May 2003. Budapest.
  32. ERRC interview with Mr V. May 2003. Budapest. 
  33. Ringold, Dena, Orenstein, Mitchell A. and Wilkens, Erika. "Roma in an Expanding Europe: Breaking the Poverty Cycle". Washington, D.C.: The World Bank. 2003, p. 28. 
  34. Decision 41/2003 of Budapest's Eighth District Government on social housing states, in Article 6(1), "A new contract cannot be made with those person, who: [...] (b) occupied any flat arbitrarily or by trespass in the last three years [...]." Decision 43/2003 entered into force on September 1, 2003. Unofficial translation by the ERRC. Among the other districts in Budapest that responded to the ERRC, the term is three years in the 21st District and five years in Budapest's Firstt, Third and Tenth Districts.
  35. According to Ms Zsuzsa Feczák, head of the Civis Ház Housing Department "[?] squatters have no chance at all to get a legal rental contract. Obviously, the local council would like to know that the flats it owns are in the hands of the rightful tenants. Squatters, as we all know, do not look after their surroundings or houses." (ERRC interview with Ms Zsuzsa Feczák. October 2003. Debrecen.) At the same time, the local government in Debrecen refuses to enter legal rental contracts with Roma arbitrarily occupying social housing, it forces them to pay a "user's fee", which, according to ERRC research, can be as much or more than the cost of regular rental fees. (ERRC interview with Mr Attila Szilágyi, head of the Civis Ház Legal Department. October 2003. Debrecen.) Civis Ház is a corporation commissioned by the Debrecen local government to manage city property. 
  36. ERRC interview with Ms N.T. April 2003. Budapest. 
  37. ERRC interview with Ms Ildiko Batizi head of state-run Provisional Homes for Families. April 2003. Debrecen. 
  38. ERRC interview with Mr Levente Kis. April 2003. Hajdúhadház. 
  39. ERRC interview with Mr László Botos. April 2003. Debrecen. 
  40. ERRC interview with Mr Gábor Balogh. April 2003. Hajdúhadház. 
  41. ERRC interview with Mr I. April 2003. Budapest. 
  42. ERRC interview with Mr László Botos. April 2003. Debrecen. 
  43. ERRC interview with Mr D. July 2003. Ózd. 
  44. ERRC interview with Mr István Mátyás. July 2003. Ózd. 
  45. ERRC interview with Ms Melinda Kiss. April 2003. Debrecen. 
  46. ERRC interview with Ms K. March, April and May 2003. Budapest. 
  47. Testing is a technique that is used to collect evidence when there is an allegation of discrimination to gauge the existence or extent of discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodation or, indeed, any other area of social life. The goal of repeated tests is to assess the nature and extent of discrimination, principally to determine whether the observed differences in treatment were isolated or reflect a pattern or practice of discriminatory behaviour.  
  48. ERRC interview with Ms D. March, April and May 2003. Budapest. 
  49. ERRC interview with Ms S. April 2003. Budapest. Numerous other Roma with whom the ERRC spoke reported similar experiences. 
  50. The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), which monitors states' compliance with the ICERD stated, in its General Comment 19 on racial segregation and apartheid, that racial segregation can "arise without any initiative or direct involvement by the public authorities. It invites States parties to monitor all trends which can give rise to racial segregation, to work for the eradication of any negative consequences that ensue, and to describe any such action in their periodic reports." CERD. General Comment 19: Racial segregation and apartheid (Art. 3). August 18, 1995, paragraph 4.


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