By: William Matthew Krueger
Impunity Watch News Staff Writer
VILNIUS, Lithuania – On October 26, 2021, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the Housing Act was reasonable and did not discriminate based on age.
On January 1, 2015, the Housing Assistance Act came into effect. The Act provided three types of housing assistance: subsidies that would cover a portion of a home loan, a right to rent housing from the State, and partial rebates of rent payments. Article 8 of the Act defines two general conditions for an individual or family to qualify for subsidies to cover a portion of a home loan.
First, the annual income of the individual or family must not exceed the threshold provided in other provisions of the Housing Assistance Act. Second, they must be seeking their first home in Lithuania or alternatively, should not have owned residential property during five years prior and did not previously receive this form of assistance; that the residential property currently owned falls underneath a legally established threshold; or the individual or family member(s) have a disability and the home is not adapted to fit the individual’s needs.
Furthermore, the applying individual had to fit in one of many categories just to qualify for the home loan.
In 2016, Loreta Šaltinytė, a single mother with a four-year daughter, applied for a housing subsidy available to lower income “young families” who were buying their first home. Šaltinytė’s application was denied by municipal authorities on the grounds that she was thirty-seven at the time of her application.
Soon, Šaltinytė filed a complaint with the administrative courts, alleging that the refusal of the housing subsidy was age discrimination, which was prohibited by Lithuania’s Constitution and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. Šaltinytė also asked for her claim to be referred to the Constitutional Court, which was dismissed. In addition, the Vilnius Regional Administrative Court dismissed Šaltinytė’s complaint on the grounds that legislature has discretion to limit who qualifies for welfare benefits.
In an appeal, Šaltinytė stated the Vilnius Regional Administrative Court failed to address the potential conflict between the Act, the Constitution, and the Charter of Fundamental Rights. The appeal was dismissed on December 6, 2018 by the Supreme Administrative Court based on precedent from the Constitutional Court that permits legal regulation of certain categories of persons, the State has wide discretion when performing social assistance and has an obligation to service the most vulnerable members of society. The Court also held that the Act was not built solely on age parameters.
In the complaint to the European Court of Human Rights, Šaltinytė alleged a violation of Articles 14 and Article 1 of Protocol No. 1. Article 14 states that discrimination based on sex, race, color, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth, or other status is prohibited. Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 states that every legal person is “entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of his possessions” except in cases where the public interest is at risk and such a right is subject to other legal conditions. Šaltinytė alleges that Lithuania failed to demonstrate a reason for establishing the cut-off age at thirty-five.
In response, Lithuania stated that the purpose of the relevant portion of the Housing Assistance Act was not as a general form of welfare, but as a way of assisting younger people to acquire property and hopefully reverse the decline of the working population. Finally, Lithuania stated that at the time Šaltinytė had her daughter she could have applied as she met the definition of “young family.”
The Court found that this difference in treatment was legitimate as the Act intended to encourage younger people to have children and reduce potential emigration. Secondly, the Act was based on statistical data gathered by Lithuania and possessed a “reasonable relationship of proportionality” between the treatment based on age and the goal of Lithuania.
The European Court of Human Rights found no violation of Article 14 or Article 6, Section 1 of the Convention.
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