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How Not to Fall Foul of Landlord Tenant Discrimination Laws

How Not to Fall Foul of Landlord Tenant Discrimination Laws

How Not to Fall Foul of Landlord Tenant Discrimination Laws

A landmark ruling at a court in York has backed up something rental campaigners have been battling to clarify for a number of years. Namely, that landlords and letting agents placing a blanket ban on housing benefit claimants when advertising a property is unlawful. Many tenants have won out-of-court settlements from letting agents and landlords over the years due to the discrimination they felt as a result of these ‘No DSS’ listings, so it has never been more important to ensure you don’t fall foul of landlord tenant discrimination laws.

Find out what happened in York and other ways in which landlords and letting agents could find themselves in trouble by directly or indirectly discriminating against certain tenants in this article.

York No DSS Ban Ruling

A single mother of two took a letting agent to court after they refused to consider her for a rental property due to her claiming housing benefit. She told the court that this had caused her to become homeless and that the blanket ban on claimants amounted to indirect discrimination. The court agreed and ruled in her favour in a case that has far reaching implications for the industry.

Reacting to the news, policy director for the National Residential Landlords Association Chris Norris said “No landlord should discriminate against tenants because they are in receipt of benefits. Every tenant’s circumstance is different and so they should be treated on a case by case basis based on their ability to sustain a tenancy.” He also called on the government to help make it easier for claimants to better afford to pay their rent, “the government can also support this work by ensuring benefits cover rents entirely. It should also convert the loans to cover the five week wait for the first payment of Universal Credit into grants.”

The government began a crackdown on ‘No DSS’ listings last year, with many online property portals banning ads that used that and similar phrasing. Lenders began relaxing their mortgage policies for buy-to-let landlords who agreed to take on Housing Benefit claimants and arrangements were made for rents from Housing Benefit to be paid directly into landlords’ accounts.

Even so, homelessness charity Shelter found that there were still many examples around, contravening the Equalities Act. The ruling is now very clear following this recent case: you cannot put a blanket ban on all benefits claimants.

Other Aspects of the Landlord Tenant Discrimination Laws

As well as avoiding discriminating against Housing Benefit claimants, there are other groups who have unfortunately suffered discrimination against them in the lettings market. This could be where a landlord or letting agent refuses to let a property to someone of a certain sexuality or race, for example. If a prospective tenant can prove that they were prevented from applying, but people of another sexuality or race weren’t, they would have a strong case for discrimination.

Although you are free to refuse to rent to anyone without giving a reason, if it can be proved that your decision was made based on certain ‘protected characteristics’, you can be issued with a fine and, potentially, face a prison sentence. These characteristics are:

  • Age

  • Race

  • Sex

  • Marital status

  • Being pregnant or on maternity leave

  • Gender identity

  • Sexual orientation

  • Disability

  • Religion

Benefit status will now form part of that list. In order not to fall foul of landlord tenant discrimination laws, you should either give a very specific reason for not renting to someone that doesn’t leave any opening for misunderstanding or, as some would advise, simply say ‘no’ without any explanation.

However, it can be allowable to positively discriminate and focus your tenant search on older residents, for example.

Help With Tenancy Legal Requirements

If you want help with the legal requirements that need to be in place before your tenants move in, look into our outsourced property management services. We can take this weight off your shoulders, allowing you to concentrate on driving your business forwards. See what we provide as part of our packages on the Making Lettings Easier page.

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