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Discrimination in Rental Properties: The Equality Act

Whilst landlords will likely be aware of the end that has come to maintaining a blanket ban on pet friendly rental opportunities, alongside renting to those that are currently receiving financial support in the form of housing allowance and universal credit, they will also need to abide by the regulations established by the equality act 2010. It is imperative that rental property owners understand what is discrimination against tenants. 

Does the Equality Act Apply to Private Landlords?

It goes without saying that landlord’s should not treat prospective renters unfairly or maliciously during their search for a new home. The Equality Act 2010 firmly establishes that a when a landlord is determining which renter they should proceed the application for a tenancy with, they should not discriminate through the specific terms of the tenancy agreement, by blatantly refusing to progress the application of a prospective renter, or unlawfully harassing anyone seeking to rent out the rental accommodation.

To this end the Equality Act detailed a series of “protected characteristics” that prohibit the misconduct of a landlord during the rental period or application process because of one of these personal qualities. With this in mind a landlord would not be able to treat an applicant for a rental opportunity or an existing tenant with prejudice because of their assumed sexual orientation. Similarly landlords and rental property owners would be condemned by the act if they were to carry out similar conduct because of the sex a tenant identifies as. Furthering this, if a prospective tenant was to be rejected for a tenancy, or otherwise treated unfairly by a landlord or letting agent because someone is transgender this would be deemed as direct discrimination. These rights are applied to renters that are planning to receive treatment, those that have already received some degree of medical treatment, to those that have fully transitioned.

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Another example of a protected characteristic that landlords must not discriminate against is religion. Prospective renters cannot be evaluated for their position in rental accommodation exclusively based on their faith. If a tenant maintains any religious, spiritual or philosophical beliefs or practices, these qualities cannot be belittled or used as justification for unfair treatment by the landlord.

Rental property owners would also be prohibited from harassing or maliciously treating a tenant because of their national origin, nationality, ethnicity or colour of their skin. This is further elaborated on throughout section 9 of 2010’s equality act stating, “a racial group is a group of persons defined by reference to race: and a reference to a personals racial group is a reference to a racial group into which the person falls. The fact that a racial group comprises two or more distinct racial groups does not prevent it from constituting a particular racial group.”

Naturally a landlord or rental property owner would be prevented from giving a tenant inequitable treatment simply because they believe the person to have a disability. The Equality Act offers protection to those that have recovered from a disability, and those that have an existing disability. Section 6 of the Equality Act states that if a person has “a physical or mental impairment and the impairment has a substantial  and long term adverse effects on the persons ability to carry out normal day to day activities,” then they cannot be subject to bias or prejudicial behaviour from a letting agent, landlord or property owner.

Those that are searching for a new rental home whilst they are pregnant are also offered protection under the act, as new others will have a twenty six week period of protection they are entitled to.

This is not to say that landlords have no control over who they are able to let out their rental properties to as there are rightful or lawful forms of discrimination. These are typically encompassed in the tenant referencing process allowing a landlord to determine if a prospective tenant would be a good fit for the tenancy. These would usually see the landlord reject an aspiring renter because they have received a poor reference from their previous landlord and naturally they wouldn’t want to accept an occupant that will leave their rental in disarray and mounting rent arrears. Similarly is a prospective renter fails to provide accurate information in regards to their finances, has a fluctuating income and unsteady employment history, the landlord would be justified to not proceed with this applicant. Similarly is a tenant has an impressive collection of county court judgements on their credit history then the landlord can be fairly confident that they will not uphold their obligation to meet the expected rental payments in the tenancy agreement; sparing themselves a potentially lengthy and costly legal procedure to reclaim possession of the rental property.

Avoiding Race Discrimination in Right to Rent Checks

A tenant’s right to rent is a major dictator in their ability to rent out a property within the UK. This right to rent will be obtained through a qualifying immigration status. This essentially makes landlords legally obligated to assess the immigration status of prospective renters prior to an agreement being signed and the tenancy commencing.  As can be expected with the anticipated fallout from the Brexit deal there have been recent changes to how right to rent works. The government issued code of practices firmly established that “it is unlawful to discriminate in the provision of rented accommodation because of race,” continuing to state that,” race discrimination may be either direct or indirect. There are also prohibitions against race related harassment and victimisation.

Direct discrimination in regards to an aspiring tenant’s right to rent would be to regard the renter in a less favourable manner simply because of their nationality or immigration status. If the landlord or owner of a rental property were to reject an application for a tenancy because of their adoption of “racial or national stereotypes” this will also be deemed a form of direct discrimination against the tenant.  Additionally it goes without saying that landlords would be prevented from upholding a ban held against those from on nationality or ethnic group.

 Indirect discrimination can also take place through the right to rent checks, although through the nature of this form of discrimination, landlords will need to evaluate any policies that have in place restricting access to their rental, or making the opportunity exclusively accessible by a specific demographic.  With this in mind is the owner of a rental property were to specify that any prospective tenants should have been in a resident within the UK for a set amount of time, this would make the rental opportunity inaccessible by migrants as UK citizens will naturally be able to meet this mark easier.  Landlords should also be wary that by making their rental exclusively accessible to those holding a certain profession.  This is because certain nationalities and ethnic groups mare be represented poorly with these industries, leaving you accountable for indirect discrimination.  

In order to avoid a case of race discrimination when conducting right to rent checks it is advised that landlords, “apply the right to rent checks in a fair, justifiable and consistent manner , regardless as to whether they believe the prospective tenant to be British settles or a person with limited permission to be here.” Government advice further elaborates that landlords should not discourage a tenant in the application for a tenancy because of their appearance, accent or other associations with their nationality and race.

It is also essential that landlords note they should not make assumptions about a prospective tenant’s right to rent solely based on their ability to produce the necessary documentation. Whilst they are not legally required to do so, landlords should maintain the offer for the rental property open for the tenant, allowing them ample time to issue the landlord with the correspondence that will demonstrate their right to rent.

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Property Adjustments for a Disability

Landlords are required to make reasonable adjustments to their rental properties in order to better accommodate renters that have disabilities. In order for these changes to be implemented the tenant must first make a request to the landlord to have these adjustments carried out. This is naturally in an effort to avoid placing those with disabilities as a disadvantage in regards to being able to enjoy the rental property and make use of the amenities and facilities that the opportunity provides to its occupants. Whilst any talk of changes being made may incur thoughts of substantial structural work, it is often not the case with these reasonable adjustments, and could simply be the consideration on a pet as it is an assistance animal or guide dog.

Tenants that suffer from a disability are not able to cite structural changes to the property under a “reasonable adjustment”; however, through section 190 of the Equality act 2010 permits the tenant to request such adaptations be made. If the landlord were to refuse such a request then they must be able to provide the tenant with their reasoning behind their decision to withhold consent. Additionally is the owner of the rental property proves to be neglectful to these requests and fails to respond, or establishes unrealistic conditions to be met before the changes are conducted then it will be considered that their consent was unreasonably withheld. If however, the landlord sets out a reasonable condition and the tenant fails to comply despite the relevant improvement being made then this will be “treated as a breach by the tenant of an obligation of the tenancy.”  Whilst it may seem strange to impose conditions on a tenant that wishes to make their life easier in the rental accommodation, these caveats are not sinister and mostly amount to requesting that the tenant undo any changes made throughout the property before the fixed term of the agreement comes to an end.

It is understandable that landlords may be unclear on what exactly would constitute a “reasonable request” from a tenant; section 190 of the Equality act 2010 details that  an improvement to the premises is a relevant improvement is, having regard to the disabled person’s disability, it is likely to facilitate hat person’s enjoyment of the premises.”

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