Landlords who discriminate

10 Nov 2017

In 1962 the playwright, director, journalist and activist Shango Baku arrived in Britain from Trinidad and Tobago to find, as was common at the time, adverts for housing in shop windows that read, “No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs”. 

Thankfully discrimination in the provision of housing is much less common now than it was in the 1960s. However, it still exists (for example, the latest homelessness figures show that people of African-Caribbean origin make up 17% of official homeless applicants in England, but only 4% of the population) and every so often a particularly blatant case of it comes along.

One such case involves Fergus Wilson, a buy-to-let property mogul who owns about 1,000 homes in Kent. Earlier this year it was reported that Mr Wilson had banned “coloured” people from renting any of his properties because of “the curry smell [they left behind] at the end of the tenancy”.

Whilst Mr Wilson’s ban did not amount to a criminal offence, it did contravene the provisions of the Equality Act 2010 – an act that prohibits discrimination based upon any of the following grounds:

  • Age;
  • Disability;
  • Gender reassignment;
  • Marriage or civil partnership;
  • Pregnancy and maternity;
  • Race;
  • Religion or belief;
  • Sex; and
  • Sexual orientation.

Although no one directly affected by Mr Wilson’s ban appears to have challenged it, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (an independent statutory body with the responsibility to encourage equality and diversity, eliminate unlawful discrimination, and protect and promote the human rights of everyone in Britain) is entitled to take legal action to address significant breaches of the Equality Act and did so.

As a consequence, earlier this week Mr Wilson found himself before a judge at the County Court in Maidstone, where the EHRC sought and obtained a three year injunction preventing him from imposing policies that bar prospective tenants based upon their race. He was also ordered to pay the EHRC £2,500 in legal costs.

Hopefully this case, as the EHRC’s Chief Executive Rebecca Hilsenrath said after the hearing, “takes us one step closer to a more equal Britain”. In the meantime it is a reminder that, although it may be difficult for individuals to bring challenges, discriminatory behaviour by landlords can be successfully challenged in the courts.

If you are assisting someone who has experienced housing related discrimination or if you have been discriminated against, some useful information is available here.

Andrew Byles is a barrister at Garden Court North Chambers.

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