Three prospective tenants claim they were turned down for an Auckland rental property because the landlord believed "all Indians are dirty".
Rashmi Raorane, who works as a primary school teacher in Auckland, says she was shocked by the comment and has now lodged a complaint with the Human Rights Commission.
The alleged incident happened when a property manager phoned Raorane saying she, her partner and her cousin had failed to secure a Pakuranga rental property.
However, the property manager, Jane Zhang of Jing Hong Property Management, has denied saying the prospective tenants had been turned down because the landlord believed that "all Indians are dirty", and said she was referring to the landlord's previous "bad experience" with Indian tenants.
Raorane, 25, moved to Auckland from Mumbai in January last year to complete a masters in teaching at Auckland University of Technology.
She was inspecting the property on May 4 with her partner Aditya Panikkar, 25, who moved to Auckland in May last year, and her cousin Siddharth Chaukekar, 24, who had lived here for two years.
Both Panikkar and Chaukekar are also in full-time work.
Raorane said Zhang told them that because they were full-time professionals with work visas and a close family unit they were "exactly the type of tenants the owner is looking for".
However, Raorane claims Zhang called them back with some different news that evening.
"She said she was sorry but we couldn't rent it 'because the owner doesn't want Indian tenants'.
"She said the landlord had Indian tenants before at another property and they kept the house really dirty so she thinks all Indians are dirty."
She told the story to several Indian friends and found they weren't surprised.
"Several of them had been denied properties based on their ethnicity and they told me that this kind of thing always happens."
Raorane said the incident was especially surprising in the context of the Christchurch terror attacks.
Raorane said it appeared to her that the [property manager] didn't even realise what she was saying was offensive.
"I am proud to be Indian and I am not dirty. I was extremely saddened and upset by what has happened and to be honest, I just had no idea Aotearoa was so racist."
Zhang told the Herald the landlord could not speak English.
"She had a very bad experience with tenants in Mt Eden, they badly damaged the house and it cost $20,000 to repair."
Zhang said the owner had opted for a mother and daughter instead of the three adults.
While she had told Raorane about the owner's previous experience with Indian tenants, that was not the main reason for turning them down.
"It was not racist. The owner was more worried about space."
Zhang said she "really liked" Raorane, and tried to find her another property.
Raorane did not have a recording of the phone conversation, but had now laid a complaint with the Human Rights Commission.
An Indian friend of Raorane said he had lived in Auckland for seven years and always found it very difficult to find a rental property.
"All South Asians - Indian, Pakistan, Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan - have trouble."
While he had never explicitly been told he was turned down because of his ethnicity, he would have to visit 10 to 20 properties before securing a rental.
"It is always very difficult."
He believed it was wrong to discriminate based on someone's ethnicity. "Tenants do have a responsibility, but turning down someone simply because of their ethnicity is wrong."
According to Government agency Tenancy Services it is against the law to choose tenants based on race, colour, nationality, ethnicity, origin or citizenship.
Information and education manager for housing and tenancy services from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment Jennifer Skyes said discrimination is unlawful under the Residential Tenancies Act (RTA) when it is in violation of the Human Rights Act.
"Discrimination is unacceptable and anyone who has experienced this type of behaviour can seek advice from Tenancy Services or the Human Rights Commission on what they can do next," Skyes said.
"Landlords need to understand that it is unlawful for anyone to discriminate when deciding whether to grant a tenancy, continue or change and existing tenancy, or end a tenancy.
"You also can't tell someone else to discriminate, for example, a landlord can't tell an agent not to rent to a single parent."
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Human Rights Commission said they are not able to confirm or deny whether a complaint has been received because the complaints process is confidential.
"Anyone who believes they have been discriminated against can complain to the Human Rights Commission by calling our confidential service on 0800 496 877 or emailing email@example.com," they said.
"You can also complain to Tenancy Services on 0800 TENANCY (0800 836 262) www.tenancy.govt.nz."