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Discrimination

When can we say “no” to applicants and when is it discrimination? Frances Burkinshaw cuts to the chase.

Frances Burkinshaw

Equality image

Our client is the landlord and therefore we take instructions from the landlord and do his/her bidding. We, however, are the professionals and one of the main reasons for using a letting agent is to be given good, legal advice. This can be at odds with the Landlord’s view and could result in our having to walk away from the instruction.

When taking on a property we should always ask the client if they have any objection to certain tenants. This may open a ‘can of worms’ but we what mean is whether the landlord objects to pets for example, or sharers, students, families or people from overseas.

Frances Burkinshaw image

Frances Burkinshaw

Landlords should be advised that they must not fall foul of the Consumer Rights Act 2015 (this replaced the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999).

If a landlord does not want pets in their property they should ensure that a ‘special clause’ is added to the tenancy agreement. This clause should then be initialled by the Tenant proving that they have agreed to the clause.

If the landlord relies solely on a standard ‘no pets’ clause it could be proved to be unfair. To comply with Unfair Terms Regulations most ‘no pets’ clauses now have the words “…but permission will not be unreasonably withheld” added at the end. The clause is actually saying that pets will be allowed unless the Landlord has a very good reason for saying “no”, such as a serious health reason.

STUDENTS AND OTHER ISSUES

Without doubt, letting to sharers and students can be problematic for landlords – they tend to swap, move out, move in etc. Specialist student lettings in university towns work well, often giving landlords a very good return on investment. It must be expected, however, that some of the profit may have to be ploughed back to bring the property back up to standard for the next academic year; we were all young once!

Students, sharers and children are relatively simple to deal with – discrimination is where the problems lie.

Tenants are human and thus prone to having children! Many landlords say that they don’t want children. What they mean is that they are concerned that the child will draw on the walls, damage furniture etc. In fact children are unlikely to do this until they are at least one year old. If therefore the tenant does have a child during the tenancy there will be plenty of time to terminate the tenancy before the child becomes ‘the child from hell’, which of course most children are not!

All of the above are relatively simple to deal with – actual discrimination is where the problems really lie. The Equality Act 2010 deals with these. We cannot discriminate against:

Sexuality, transgender, unmarried, civil partnerships; disability, religion or race.

Some people still have strong views, particularly with regard to sexual matters but we now accept many relationships which previously would have been kept secret. We must therefore advise clients that they cannot refuse to accept an applicant simply because they are, for example, gay.

I remember, many years ago, offering a cottage to let in East Sussex. The owners were in Hong Kong, the elderly father was left ‘in charge’ in the UK. We found a very nice couple to rent the property. I contacted the father and he asked for their names; the surnames were different – they were not married. He was thoroughly shocked and said that he would not accept them as they would be ‘living in sin’! I contacted the Client in Hong Kong who, naturally, told us to go ahead and let to the couple, which we did and they lived very happily in the cottage.

Religion is a difficult subject, which often leads to disagreements. However, we cannot discriminate against an applicant’s religion. The Landlord may be a staunch Catholic but he cannot insist that we let only to Catholics.

RACE AND RELIGION

Another true story from another trainer: The training subject was discrimination. One private landlord spoke of her own home and an investment property; she was going to let both properties. This lady was Jewish. She insisted that she would only let to other Jews. The trainer explained it would be discrimination; the lady would not accept this. “They are my properties,” she said “I will only let to Jewish people, the properties would be left ‘unclean’ (in religious terms) if let to people of other religions.”

The answer was not to let them at all, said the trainer. The lady confirmed that perhaps she would relent with the investment property but certainly not with her own home!

We might sympathise with the lady’s religious views but the law is the law and we must abide by it.

Today, if an applicant could prove that they were discriminated against there could be serious penalties for the landlord and of course, the agent.

Frances Burkinshaw is an independent trainer available nationally for in-house or group training. 01892 783961 or 07887 714341 or frances@ivychimneys.co.uk

February 27, 2018

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