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Reporting a Landlord for Discrimination

Regardless of if you are a landlord or a tenant, the renting sector is upheld and progressed through community. Finding a home should naturally encompass a safe, welcoming environment for all, with the door to your next rental never being closed because of who you are. However, discrimination against tenants does unfortunately happen. Perhaps most commonly seen in the form of No DSS advertisements, essentially declaring dismissal of any renters that would be in receipt of financial support, renters must be aware of the forms of discrimination in a rental property and how they can go about reporting a landlord for discrimination under the Equality Act 2010.

What Is the Equality Act 2010?

Being introduced by the UK government in October 2010 the Equality act gave additional protection to those that wished to rent from being treated in a malicious or unfair manner, simply because of who they are. This move intended to reduce the amount of discrimination seen across the rental sector, making it easier for anyone to find their next home. To this end the Equality Act established a series of “protected characteristics” that prevented landlords from establishing their bias, harassing or victimising the occupants of their rental properties because of these features.

What Are the Protected Characteristics?

Firstly the owner of the rental property would not be able to reject an application for a tenancy, or otherwise treat the tenant unfairly based on any disability they may have. This disability could be existing or one that has been recovered from. Section 6 of the Equality act establishes a person to have a disability is they have “a physical or mental impairment and the impairment has a substantial  and long term adverse effects on the personals ability to carry out normal day to day activities.

The act also means that renters that are pregnant cannot be discriminated against. Mothers will also have a “protected period” that comprises the twenty six weeks following the birth, including stillbirths. Section 17 of the act more clearly defines this form of discrimination detailing that a woman is discriminated against if they are “treated unfavourably because of a pregnancy of hers… if in the period of 26 weeks beginning with the day on which she gives birth she is treated unfairly because she has given birth.” It goes onto mention that includes being treated unfairly because of breastfeeding.

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Those who choose to rent cannot be further discriminated against because of their sexual orientation, as section 12 of the Equality act would be violated. Similarly landlords, letting agents, property owners and social housing cannot treat a tenant in a maliciously or unfairly because of the sex they identify as.  The Equality act will also cover those that are transgender, the regulations will be upheld if the tenant is making plans to have medical treatment in the future, has made steps towards having their gender reassigned and has received medical treatment, or has fully transitioned.

It would also be considered a violation of the act if a landlord were to carry out discriminatory practices against a renter based on their colour, nationality, ethnicity or their national origin. Section 9 of the Equality Act further details that “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.”

Landlords would be in further breach of the Equality Act if they are treating tenants or prospective renters unfairly because of their religious beliefs. If the tenant is a member of an organised religion, is identifying as an atheist, holds philosophical or religious beliefs and practices they would be protected by the act.

Types of Tenancy Discrimination

If a tenant is unsure the conduct they have endured constitutes discrimination the act establishes four types of this behaviour. If a renter is treated in an unfair manner simply because they are believed to have a protected characteristic then this would be considered direct discrimination.  An example of this would be if a landlord refused to let out a rental property to prospective renters because of their race or religious beliefs.

Contrary to this indirect discrimination can be more subtle. This will typically take the form of a standard procedure or routine established in the rental that would specifically hinder a tenant with a specific protected characteristic. With this being said the party that commits this indirect discrimination is able to defend their position if they are able to show that the implemented measures that are indirectly discriminatory were intended to meet a legitimate aim.  This will be evaluated by determining if the measures were intended to achieve a legitimate aim, is legitimately a method of doing so and is “a measure which is no more than is necessary to achieve the legitimate objective.”

Harassment would also be considered to fall under the malicious actions cover by the Equality act. With this in mind if a malicious rental environment in intentionally created for a tenant because of a protected characteristics, leaving them subjects to humiliation, gestures, jokes, offensive abuse or slander the renter would have a compelling case for discrimination.

Perhaps less common than the other forms of discrimination, victimisation is the unfortunate hostile response some renters can receive after trying to rectify a situation in which they were treated unfairly. It is also worth mentioning that it can be considered victimisation even is a formal complaint has not been issued, if the offending party suspects the renter with the protected characteristic intended on doing so.

Is It Illegal For Landlords to Say No DSS?

Over recent years it has been common to see advertisements for rental properties to be adorned with “No DSS” statements from the landlord. This meant that any prospective renters that were interested in the property would not be considered as they were receiving finical support through housing allowance or benefits. Whilst landlords have historically sited concerns surrounding an easier environment for rent arrears to accumulate, their historical blanket ban on DSS tenants can no longer be upheld.  A court case that took place in July of 2020 resulted in a ruling that considered any No DSS clauses in a tenancy advertisement to be indirect discrimination. Much to the delight of housing charities and tenant campaigners the case has established a precedent making those that need additional support with their income able to find a home. This has become especially pointiest as a result of the coronavirus pandemic that has seen record numbers of households make applications for housing benefits and support as the furlough scheme and fluctuating work availability hits the tenant’s expenditure.

Making a Complaint About Discrimination

Typically before a formal complaints procedure is pursued it is not uncommon for tenants to be advised to try and resolve the matter in an informal manner. This could be achieved through simply contacting the landlord and detailing the events that comprise the discriminatory practice, including information surrounding if other occupants of the property witnessed the event, how the discrimination has affected you and the desired resolve for the situation. It is also good practice to establish with the landlord when you can expect a response to your complaint to ensure that the matter doesn’t go stagnant.  If your landlord fails to provide a response by the close of the agreed upon time frame then you should reaffirm your complaint through email as the contact would be in writing and irrefutable.

However, if this doesn’t yield a desirable outcome or the landlord or letting agent neglects to attend to the matter a formal complaint can be made. In many cases with private landlords a ridged complaints procedure will not be in place so all correspondence will likely be through email. Whilst this may be seen as simply a do over of the informal complaint, the language used by the tenant here should clearly outline the problem in relation in regards to its violation of part four of the Equality Act 2012, whilst citing the exact form of discrimination they have endured.  Any previous communication that has been had with the property owner, letting agent or relevant party to resolve the matter should also be included in the formal complaint, with the date on which they were contacted and why the resolve reached was insufficient.

If this once again fails to address the matter, or no response was given to your concerns the complaint may have to be escalated to an imperial mediator, court, or overruling organisation that upholds universal standards such as an ombudsman.  With this being said, before the matter is taken further it is essential that the tenant makes these key considerations before committing. Whilst presenting the matter to the ombudsman can often grant a faster resolve and at a far lesser cost than if legal proceedings were pursued, their decision is not enforceable through common law, meaning it could potentially be ignored by the landlord.  Additionally, as mentioned getting tangled into a legal battle with a landlord, letting agent or rental property owner can be a lengthy, exorbitantly costly and still fall short of the desired outcome for the tenant. It is imperative that before the matter is taken to a court, the amount of evidence proving the discrimination is assessed, providing your case is sufficient legal action can commence.

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If the tenant wishes to report a letting agency to an overruling ombudsman they should contact The Property Redress Scheme or The Property Ombudsman as they will be required to be a member of one of these organisations. As for private landlords it is worth seeing if they may be a member of the National Landlords Association or the Housing Ombudsman. Regardless of where the relevant party hold a membership they will have a specific complaints procedure that must be adhered to.

If both parties of the tenancy agreement feel like an amicable solution can be reached without going down the legal route, nor informing a governing body, the landlord and tenant may take on the services of an impartial mediator. This mediator with have no alignment or bias with either side of the dispute and will help the dispute reach a fair resolution for both parties. As can be expected with the mediator being impartial, this does mean that the tenant runs the risk of not getting their desired outcome realised to its fullest extent, but must appreciate and respect that the decision of the mediator is final and will be upheld. It is also worth noting that the landlord cannot be compelled to attend any mediation and can refuse mediation altogether if they wish. With this being said, if mediation is unsuccessful and the tenant wished to take matters further and pursue legal action against the landlord, if the owner of the rental property has proved to be reluctant in addressing the issue and also refuse mediation, this will not work in their favour.

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