Impact of Discrimination Law on the Property Sector

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Discrimination Law

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Landlords are particularly likely to fall foul of this legal issue as they are often not well-versed in the area and do not regularly consider the knock-on issues that may arise when setting any tenant restrictions.

Some common restrictions that are seen in landlord advertisements include non-acceptance of smokers or those who are on social security benefits. Both of these restrictions are considered acceptable as they do not discriminate against any sector of society. You are no more likely to be a smoker if you are a woman or if you are black; therefore, they are not generally considered as discriminatory.

There are greater difficulties when setting restrictions such as no single parents or a requirement that a tenant must be in full-time employment. This is because they are much more likely to be discriminatory to women due to the higher number of women who would fall into these categories. Whilst, in practice, it is not common for these types of restrictions to be listed in advertisements, the mere mention of such specific requirements to a letting agent could possibly give rise to a discrimination claim from rejected tenants.

Estate agents are not able to facilitate any form of discrimination and should advise landlords of this fact. Any prospective buyer or renter who finds themselves the subject of what they consider to be unfair restrictions should discuss the issue with the agent, as it may simply be an oversight. If the individual continues to feel that an agent is operating a discriminatory practice he/she should raise their concerns with the OFT.

There is a caveat that allows for discriminatory practices, if the conditions are necessary for a genuine commercial reason and not simply to exclude a certain sector of society. For example, it could be argued that full-time employment is necessary for the rental that is being asked for a particular property. With some of the flats that are currently available for rent in many large cities, it is not unreasonable to state that the tenant would have to be in full-time employment, simply because the size of the rent could not be payable out of benefits. A similar argument may be used by mortgage providers who offer better rates to those in employment than to those who rely on the rental income to service their mortgage.

One of the best ways for professionals to deal with the risk of being discriminatory is to monitor their businesses, closely. Keeping accurate records of the tenants or buyers that they have on their books, which properties they view and on which property they manage to negotiate a deal are all important issues. Estate agents should also refuse to deal with any landlord or seller who insists on setting discriminatory requirements. If there is a genuine commercial reason for a requirement, then this should be recorded and listed in case of any future investigations.

Those within the financial sector of the property industry have to be particularly cautious about discrimination. Most lenders will have stringent sets of requirements and these are not generally considered discriminatory. It has recently been decided that having cheaper introductory rates for new borrowers is not considered discriminatory. However, lenders are now paying particular attention to their products making sure that they offer a suitable range of products that cannot be considered to marginalise any sector of society based on race, sex, age or disability.

Summary

Whatever your interest in property, be it as a buyer, seller, tenant, landlord, agent or financial expert, discrimination law may well have a direct impact on your approach.

Setting discriminatory restrictions is generally best avoided unless it is for a genuine commercial reason. Anyone setting restrictions should record why they are doing so, in order to ensure compliance. Agents, in particular, need to keep very accurate records and exercise caution when dealing with any landlords or sellers who insist on monitoring potential customers too closely.

Anyone who feels that they are being discriminated against, either directly or indirectly should, in the first instance, raise the issue with the provider. If they remain unsatisfied with the response, the issue can be raised with the OFT or Financial Ombudsman.

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