The discrimination laws apply when choosing and dealing with tenants moving in properties, so this is something which is important to know about. However, it is only unlawful discrimination which is forbidden. Some types of discrimination are acceptable and are actually advisable in certain circumstances.
This article gives a quick overview of what is and what is not unlawful… make sure you don’t fall into any of these pitfalls!
When it is unlawful to discriminate
It is unlawful to discriminate against anyone for any of the following reasons:
- being or becoming a transsexual person
- being married or in a civil partnership
- being pregnant or on maternity leave
- race including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin
- religion, belief, or lack of religion/belief
- sexual orientation
These are called ‘protected characteristics’ and buying or renting property is one area where the law protects you from discrimination.
So, if you are a landlord you cannot refuse to rent a property to someone simply because:
- They are over 70
- They are black
- They are Muslim (or Christian)
- They are men, or because
- They have mental health issues
If you do, you will be breaking the law.
However, this does not mean that if someone who is disabled, gay, etc applies to rent your property you have GOT to rent to them. It is illegal if you refuse to rent to them because (for example) they are gay. However, it is not illegal to refuse to rent to them because you don’t think they can afford the rent.
When you should discriminate
Discrimination does not necessarily mean unlawful discrimination. So, for example, it is perfectly acceptable, and in most cases advisable, to discriminate against someone who clearly cannot afford the rent for the property.
In that context ‘discrimination’ is another way of saying ‘choose’.
Here are some situations where ‘discrimination’ (or not choosing someone) may be a good idea:
- People who you genuinely believe will not look after the property
- People who have numerous county court judgements registered against them
- People whose former landlord gives a bad reference for them, or even
- People who you feel uneasy about – your subconscious may be warning you that this person is going to be a bad tenant.
The anti-discrimination legislation is not there to force you to rent your property to someone you consider will be a bad tenant.
When you can discriminate
You can discriminate against anyone, for whatever you like, so long as it is not in respect of one of the protected characteristics.
So, it is perfectly legal, although not nice) to discriminate against people because:
- They have red hair
- You don’t like them
- They ride a motor bike
- They are plumbers, or
- They have too many tattoos.
Tenants on benefit
Benefit means a tenant who is in receipt of any kind of state support such as housing benefit, or Universal Credit.
The situation is interesting in these instances. Being on benefit is not in itself a protected characteristic, so landlords often justify discriminating against people on benefit because they think they will not be able to pay rent or will be unreliable. Or even because they do not want to deal with the Council.
However, there have now been several cases of this happening, and it is now clear that a prohibition on tenants on benefit will be unlawful. So, in view of this, do not have a blanket ban on benefit claimants as this could leave you open to future issues.
This does not mean, when letting a property that you cannot choose someone with a job over someone on benefits if you genuinely consider that they would be a better tenant or more likely to be able to pay the rent. It just means that you must consider them and not dismiss them simply because they are on benefit.
If someone is refused a property and suspects that this is down to unlawful discrimination by the landlord, there are always going to be problems proving this – unless the landlord admits it.
For example: If a landlord tells a tenant he’s not having anybody who is transexual in his property – the tenant may have a case.
However, if a Landlord just tells him he has been refused, without using any reasoning, and rents the property to someone who has a higher paying job – the tenant would not have a case. As the landlord’s decision to choose the other tenant is perfectly reasonable.
Therefore, landlords need to be careful about telling tenants what their reasons for refusal are. You need to be careful about selecting people for reasons unconnected with their ability to pay for or look after the property – as you may be discriminating unlawfully without realising it.
Positive discrimination is allowed, if people with a protected characteristic are at a disadvantage, or
have certain needs, which is why it is all right to have accommodation specially adapted and reserved, for example, for disabled people in wheelchairs or the elderly.
In conclusion, it is all about your reason for refusal to rent. If your reason is connected to a protected characteristic – you are in the wrong. Apart from this, you can choose who you want to live in your property.
When it comes down to it, you need to make your decision on who to rent to based on whether you think they will be a good tenant or not. If your decision is reasonable and is not based on something connected to any protected characteristics, you should be well within your rights!
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