Discrimination by landlords
Being bullied by your landlord? Or lost out on your dream home because your sort dont belong around here? Its important to understand your rights.
Anyone who's rented accommodation will probably have a horror story about the difficult owner who let himself in whilst you were showering, or the one who keeps turning a deaf ear when the boiler is on the blink.
But what if you feel your landlord is being bullying or obstructive because of who you are? Or if you can't find a place to live at all because of your age, race or sexuality? It's not always easy to tell when a difficult landlord becomes a discriminatory one, but if you feel you're been treated unfairly, there are steps you can take to protect yourself and seek justice.
Common forms of discrimination
Young people are often particularly vulnerable as tenants. Many are new to renting, and if they're studying may often only be staying in the property a for year, meaning many don't know their rights. "One group who are commonly discriminated against are students," explains Rachael Orr of Shelter, the UK's leading housing and homelessness charity. "A lot of landlords letting to students are not very professional, and think they can get away with stuff they wouldn't be able to ordinarily."
Those claiming housing benefit may also find renting a problem. "A lot of landlords say in adverts that they won't rent to people on housing benefit," adds Rachael. "For young people it's particularly difficult because the benefit is capped thanks to something called the Shared Room rate - you're only entitled to claim the amount to cover the cost of a room in a shared house, which can be really difficult if you've got family."
Is it legal to discriminate against young people or people claiming benefits? Strictly speaking, no, but the problem is that the private renting sector is largely unregulated, meaning there's no one out there sorting good landlords from bad, and often no organisation to step in when landlords break the law.
So where can I go for help?
For advice on any landlord dispute, a good first port of call is your local Citizen's Advice Bureau, who can offer free legal advice and suggest further steps. Shelter also offer help and support on their free helpline and in any of their national offices.
You can also try your local council. It's the council who are responsible for enforcing rules of landlord behaviour - but don't necessarily expect them to fight your corner. "Often councils won't know what their powers are, or have the resources to police it," explains Rachael Orr. So if you're convinced you've been treated badly but the council gives you the brush off, it's worth seeking further advice.
Race, sex and disability discrimination
The bad old days when a landlord could post a property advert stipulating 'no blacks, no Irish' are, thankfully, gone. According to the Citizens Advice Bureau, "it's against the law for someone who is providing you with accommodation or other housing services, for example housing advice, to discriminate against you because of your race, sex, disability, sexuality or religion" (although there are exceptions to this rule - for example, if your landlord lives in the same property as you).
It's also against the law for landlords to discriminate again tenants on grounds of race, sex or disability. Discrimination can take many forms, from harassment - which might include late-night visits or threatening phone calls - to more indirect forms of discrimination, like using language you might find offensive or a refusal to carry out important repairs.
If you are disabled, you can ask your landlord to make certain changes to the property on the grounds of 'reasonable adjustments'. Landlords who refuse to make these and cannot justify why are probably breaking the law. The disabled are also within their rights to own a guide dog if necessary, even if pets are banned in the terms and conditions.
Write it all down
Keeping a written record of communication between you and your landlord is crucial. Many landlords still don't provide written contracts, but it's important to get one if you want them to keep their promises.
If problems arise during your tenancy, Shelter recommend you deal with your landlord in writing and make sure you have a witness present during any face-to-face conversations to back up what's been said. "Often people think it's not worth making the fuss," says Shelter's Rachael Orr. "After three months haggling for the return of your deposit, you think 'oh, I won't bother'. But there are things you can do. You can take them to court, to the small claims court or the Property Ombudsman. A lot of people who have a bad experience with their landlord sometimes just want to get out and move on. But it means a lot of landlords get away with really bad practice."
Written by Louis Pattison
Read the comment policy
Use our free question and answer service and speak to an expert!