Discrimination In The Rental Sector: What It Is And How To Avoid It
Oct 04, 2021
Prejudice and discrimination occur in all walks of life and the rental sector is not immune. Sadly, many people struggle to find accommodation due to circumstances outside their control such as race, gender, or family status. How can tenants know they will be treated fairly? And how can landlords deal appropriately with potential tenants? We explore the issues involved.
“It’s not fair!” It’s a phrase that echoes around every school playground.
All of us want to be treated justly and to feel as if our efforts are being taken seriously. There’s nothing more frustrating than being rejected for no good reason, when we know we’re capable or suitable.
But it’s one thing to worry about fairness when we’re just playing schoolyard games. Fairness is all the more important when it comes to basic human needs such as housing.
Discrimination in The Rental Sector
It’s standard practice for landlords and letting agents to ask for proof that a tenant can afford to pay the rent. It’s also common for them to look for reassurance by asking for references from past landlords.
These requests are an acceptable and appropriate part of the letting process (Click here to learn more about pre-letting documentation). However, in some instances, prospective tenants are being discriminated against for reasons such as marital status or ethnicity.
Unfair bias often arises deliberately. But it can also occur unintentionally. Many of us have internal prejudices that we aren’t even aware of until they’re pointed out.
Regardless of how it happens, it’s vital that everyone involved in the rental process is alert to such discrimination and is attempting to address it.
In September 2021, The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) and Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) published an important report entitled Monitoring Adequate Housing in Ireland.
Speaking about the report, Sinéad Gibney, Chief Commissioner of IHREC said:
Discrimination is a reality, but protections are in place. Tenants and landlords alike need to understand the relevant legislation and how it affects them.
The Equal Status Acts 2000-2018
This legislation lays out grounds that cannot be used to discriminate against a tenant (read in full here). These grounds affect landlords in two ways.
A landlord cannot refuse to rent to someone based on any of these grounds.
A landlord cannot evict someone based on any of these grounds.
Nine main grounds are laid out in the acts. These apply to areas such as employment, as well as the rental sector.
Family status (such as being a carer, parent, or pregnant)
Membership of the Traveller Community
Some extra grounds need to be considered concerning property rental. These are concerned with where the money for rent is coming from. A potential tenant cannot be discriminated against if they are receiving:
Housing Assistance Payment (HAP)
Any form of Social Welfare benefit
It’s important to note that a landlord is entitled to ask for Rent Supplement to be paid directly to them. In addition, a landlord is allowed to refuse a tenant who has no way of paying the appropriate rate of rent.
Overall, some exemptions apply to the Equal Status Acts. For example, lodgers in a private home are not covered by this legislation. IHREC has more information about how these exemptions affect landlords and tenants.
What Might Discrimination Look Like?
Based on the grounds above, discrimination can show itself in many different ways.
Prime examples include refusing to show or rent a property or evicting a tenant. It’s also inappropriate to deliberately make life difficult for a tenant, for example by refusing to sign relevant forms.
And of course, it’s unacceptable to reject a tenant because of welfare payments.
Appropriate Language in Property Advertising
A property advertisement is often the very first point of contact between tenant and landlord. But even at this early stage, discrimination can start to rear its head.
A seemingly innocent comment such as “would be suitable for professionals” can show an intention to play favourites.
If you’re advertising a property, the main thing is to avoid particular “trigger words”. For example, the mention of a single person would appear to discriminate based on family status. Likewise a mention of “his and hers” could be interpreted as being biased towards a particular sexual orientation.
Context is important, however, so some words that are often considered triggers may be acceptable if used in another way. For example, describing a living room as a “family room” should cause no problems. The overall picture needs to be taken into account.
Sample lists of trigger words are included in the guidelines.
What To Do If You Discover Discrimination
If you have been affected by discrimination, or are aware that it is happening, there are a number of organisations you can contact.
Threshold is Ireland’s housing charity. Their vision is “an Ireland where everyone has access to affordable, secure, suitable and good quality housing”.
If you have concerns, you can contact them on Freephone 1800 454 454, or through their website’s contact form.
Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC)
IHREC is Ireland’s national human rights and equality institution. They advocate strongly for adequate housing as a human right.
Contact their Your Rights service between 9.30 am and 1 pm, Monday to Friday.
Lo-call: 1 890 245545
Tel: + 353 (0) 1 8583000
Workplace Relations Commission (WRC)
Don’t be put off by the commission’s name: the WRC can also deal with discrimination outside the workplace and handle complaints made under the Equal Status Acts.
Find out more about this here.
Our app aims to make the rental process as streamlined as possible for both landlords and tenants.
As part of this, we want to do our bit to avoid discrimination. Our carefully-designed portal makes it easy for all parties to know their interactions fall within the relevant legislation.
Landlords are reassured they’re keeping to legal requirements and tenants can apply knowing they’ll be treated fairly.
It’s a win for everyone!
Taking the hassle out of renting for everyone.
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