99.co Pledges to End Racism in Singapore

Anna Game Lopata

July 18, 2016

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“Your wife is Indian, landlord won’t rent to you.” 99.co CEO Darius Cheung with wife Roshni and newborn daughter Shan. Photo credit: Bambooshoots.com.sg

Following an unpleasant and public incident of racism in which an employee had to be sacked, 99.co has launched REGARDLESS-OF-RACE a campaign to curb the growing trend of ethnic exclusion in the Singapore rental market.

99.co CEO Darius Cheung has himself experienced racism first hand.

Late last year, when his Indian-born wife Roshni, founder of theAsianparent, was 6 months pregnant, the couple decided to move to a place closer to her office to prepare for the baby’s arrival.

But shockingly, and contrary to Cheung’s expectations, landlords refused to rent to them because of his wife’s ethnicity.

“On several occasions, the agents seemed eager to end the viewings quickly, sometimes without even discussing the offer,” Cheung writes in his blog.

“I would text them afterwards to negotiate on the price, and one of the responses we got was “Sorry your wife is Indian, landlord won’t rent to you. Next time please indicate earlier, so we both don’t waste time”.

“She is a Singaporean, her favourite snack is popiah and her favourite fruit is durian,” Cheung relates.

“I understand the idea of discrimination intellectually and recognise that it exists, but it was not until this moment that I caught a glimpse of what it actually means to be discriminated against.

“In the end, my wife and I paid a good 15 per cent more than what we should have because we could only settle on one place we liked that welcomed us (in addition to the fact we had little negotiation power at that point).

“’Should we drop my last name from Shan’s (our daughter’s) IC? It might just be easier for her in the future’, Roshni asked me one night with a hint of defeat and injury she was trying to hide.

“My heart broke into a thousand pieces. We had wanted our daughter to keep both our last names and to be proud of her heritage equally.

“That night, I decided I could not let my daughter grow up in a society where she has to hide her identity just because “it will be easier”. Not here, as a citizen, in the country of her birth.”

The experience prompted Cheung and Roshni to launch their REGARDLESS-OF-RACE campaign, targeted at landlords, real estate agents and renters to take a stand against rental racial discrimination.

Under this new initiative, in time to mark Racial Harmony Day, Thursday, 21st July, landlords and agents are encouraged to be inclusive to all tenants through their 99.co rental listings.

They can show their support for a fairer and more equal system of accepting tenants by clicking an “All races welcome” option on their existing 99.co listings. These listings will then be prominently featured on the 99.co homepage to prospective renters.

A pledge page will also be available for landlords and tenants to show their solidarity and commitment to reject racial rental discrimination.

They can take a pledge to show that they oppose these practices as well as share their personal stories of rental racial discrimination they might have experienced.

“This campaign demonstrates our principles as a company that celebrates diversity and equality as well as staying true to our promise to help property seekers find properties they love,” Cheung says.

“Awareness and education needs to be done from the ground up and we are taking the time through this campaign to accomplish that.”

Currently, rental listings on property portals containing language explicitly excluding specific races and nationalities still exist.

An estimated 20 per cent of renters get responses such as ‘landlord doesn’t want Indians’ or ‘Sorry owner says no to PRC’ when they enquire about a property they are interested in.

The most commonly discriminated against groups are Indians and mainland Chinese, which forms about half of the rental market’s demand by 99.co’s estimate.

“With vacancy rates at over 7 per cent for rental properties and an overwhelming supply of completed properties coming into the market within the next 12-16 months, it is not just a moral and societal matter, it also makes economical sense for landlords to be open to all tenants,” Cheung adds.

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Simon Baker is the Founder and Executive Chairman of Online Marketplaces and Property Portal Watch. Involved with property portals for 15 years, he’s a well-recognized expert and industry consultant.
As former CEO/MD of the REA Group for 8 years, Simon led the group to its current market-leading position. When he joined REA Group in 2001, it had $4m in revenues, $6m in losses and an $8m market cap.
By 2008, the company presided over $155m in revenues, $35m in EBITDA and enjoyed a peak market cap of $1b. Simon is currently Chairman of the Mitula Group and Real Estate Investar and a serial portal founder and, investor.