Business Society 13 December 2021

CIAN bans ‘Slavs only’ ads for rental property

Russia’s largest online real estate service, CIAN, announced last week that it was banning discriminatory listings — a month after its successful U.S. initial public offering (IPO). This means an end to the widespread practice of advertising property “for Slavs only”.

  • CIAN’s new policy is that: “advertising text must not contain direct or indirect discrimination, nor incitement to discrimination based on race or ethnicity (including indicators such as skin color, ethnic or national background, citizenship or religious faith).” Any adverts that do not comply must be edited by Feb. 1 — after that “CIAN reserves the right to independently make the necessary adjustments”.
  • In a statement, CIAN said it was speaking up for “equal opportunities for all users”. But it’s not an unprecedented step: in late November, a similar move was made by the Flats for Friends group on Facebook, which has almost 240,000 users. According to the new rules on Flats for Friends, landlords must include a note that they welcome “renters of all nationalities, origins, genders, ages and sexual preferences”, and also agree to allow pets in their properties. If a landlord decides not to make such a statement, there’s an extra charge of 499 rubles ($6.80).
  • These measures were not met with overwhelming support: angry comments appeared on CIAN’s social media pages; the app’s rating on Google Play and the App Store began to fall; and reviewers complained of ‘Russophobia’ and ‘discrimination against Slavs’. Several users pointed out that the explanation for the ban only referenced the ‘Slavs only’ tag and ignored the almost equally common ‘girls only’ epithet. Other commentators said that the new rules were pointless because xenophobic landlords could still block candidates after viewings or meetings — simply wasting everyone’s time.
  • Discrimination on the Russian real estate market mainly affects people from Central Asia and the Caucasus. But there are different interpretations of “Slavs”: for some, it includes all residents of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. However, Ukrainians are increasingly excluded due to the political tensions between Moscow and Kyiv.
  • For people of non-Slavic appearance, house-hunting in Russia is a time-consuming and expensive process. Roughly one in six apartment owners in Moscow and Petersburg are only willing to rent to Slavic tenants, and the cheaper the apartment, the greater the likelihood of discrimination, according to analysts at real estate service The Meters. On four popular apartment-search platforms, including CIAN, 17 percent of advertisments included xenophobic tags.
  • CIAN’s own research in March found that only 10 percent of Moscow landlords did not have any criteria for tenants. The most frequent objections were nationality (29 percent) and pet ownership (28 percent).
  • Any landlord who admits to turning down tenants on grounds of nationality or ethnicity is in breach of the Russian constitution. In reality, though, this means little. It’s almost impossible to prove discrimination in a Russian court, reported media outlet Meduza (which has been designated a ‘foreign agent’ by the Russian authorities obliging other publications to identify it as such).
  • Many people believe CIAN’s decision to introduce new rules was linked to its IPO in the U.S. last month, although in comments to several media outlets the company has denied any connection and insisted the changes were long-planned. When CIAN floated in New York and Moscow, it placed at the upper end of its price range and was valued at $1.1 billion. Since then, however, shares in the company have fallen 25 percent. They dropped a further 18 percent last week.

Why the world should care: CIAN’s story shows how a successful IPO in the U.S. may lead to the import of the very ‘Western values’ that so often attract the ire of the Russian authorities. At the same time, the angry reaction to CIAN’s anti-discrimination rules is a reminder that the kind of tolerance that seems obvious in the U.S. may not work in a company’s financial favor in Russia.