EGMR: Referral to the Grand Chamber accepted in the case of Garib v. the Netherlands („Wohnsitzauflage“ bei Sozialleistungsbezug)

The following case has been referred to the Grand Chamber of the ECHR: Garib v. the Netherlands (application no. 43494/09) – concerning the complaint by a woman living on social welfare about residential restrictions in a district of Rotterdam as a result of which she was unable to freely choose her place of residence.

The applicant, Rohiniedevie Garib, is a Netherlands national who was born in 1971. She is a single mother of two whose sole source of income is social welfare.

Ms Garib settled in the Tarwewijk district of Rotterdam in 2005, having previously lived elsewhere. She was asked by the owner of the property which she was renting to vacate the place, as he wished to renovate it for his own use. He offered to let to her another property in the same area, to which she agreed, given that the new flat was bigger and more suitable for her and her two young children.

In the meantime, the Tarwewijk district of Rotterdam – an area of high unemployment – had been designated under the Inner City Problems (Special Measures) Act as an area in which taking up new residence was only possible with a housing permit. Ms Garib duly lodged a request for such a permit in March 2007. Her request was refused by the authorities on the grounds that she had not been a resident in the Rotterdam Metropolitan Region for the six years immediately preceding the introduction of her request. Moreover, since her income was not from work, she did not meet the income requirement that would have qualified her for an exemption from the length-of-residence requirement.

Ms Garib’s objection against that decision was dismissed by the city authorities and, in April 2008, the Regional Court dismissed her appeal. It argued in particular that the Inner City Problems (Special Measures) Act provided for the possibility of temporary restrictions on freedom of residence. Those restrictions aimed to reverse a process of overburdening the districts concerned by striving for a more mixed composition of residents from a socioeconomic point of view. Her further appeal was dismissed by the Council of State in February 2009. In September 2010 she moved to the municipality of Vlaardingen, where she still lives.

Ms Garib complains that the Inner City Problems (Special Measures) Act and the related city legislation violated her rights under Article 2 of Protocol No. 4 (freedom of movement / freedom to choose one’s residence) to the European Convention on Human Rights.

In its Chamber judgment of 23 February 2016, the ECHR held, by fives to two, that there had been no violation of Article 2 of Protocol No. 4. The Chamber found that the measure pursued a legitimate aim – namely, it intended to reverse the decline of impoverished inner-city areas and to improve the quality of life – and it was proportionate to that aim. In particular, the relevant legislation included several safeguard clauses for those who did not qualify for a housing permit; and Ms Garib had not been prevented from taking up residence in areas of Rotterdam not covered by the legislation in question.

On 12 September 2016 the Grand Chamber Panel accepted Ms Garib’s request that the case be referred to the Grand Chamber.

Press Release ECHR 283 (2016) 13.09.2016

Redaktioneller Hinweis: Der Fall betrifft nicht eine „Wohnsitzauflage“ im engeren Sinne, sondern eine weniger einschneidende Einschränkung der Freizügigkeit (das Verbot, sich in einem bestimmten Stadtgebiet niederzulassen).