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Discrimination in housing - finding a home to rent

This advice applies to Scotland

This information applies to Scotland.

Your rights not to be discriminated against when looking for a rented home can depend on who you are dealing with. This could be a private person or a private or public organisation. You have some protection from discrimination under the Equality Act 2010 and you have additional human rights that can protect you from discrimination.

Read this page to find out more about unlawful discrimination when you want to rent a property.

Have you suffered unlawful discrimination?

One law which says you mustn’t be discriminated against is called the Equality Act 2010. If you can show that you were discriminated against because of who you are you can take civil legal action in court. There is protection for you under this piece of legislation in relation to:

  • disability
  • changing your gender
  • being pregnant or having a baby
  • race
  • religion or belief
  • sex (your gender)
  • sexual orientation.

Age is another protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 but discrimination on the grounds of age does not apply to the sorts of services to do with finding a home to rent except if a prospective landlord harasses or victimises you because of your age.

If you think you’ve been discriminated against by a private landlord, housing association or local authority and you want to take action about it you may need the help of an experienced adviser to check whether the discrimination is unlawful. You can check what type of discrimination you think it was that took place.

If you think you have been discriminated against with behaviour that demonstrated malice and ill-will the person who discriminated against could be guilty of hate crime. The police take hate crime very seriously. If you want to check what hate crime is see Hate crime.

Human rights law

Another area of law that might protect you from discrimination in finding a rented property is human rights law. You will need an experienced adviser to check if your human rights have been breached.

Example

If you have just come out of prison and you think you did not get a rented property because of who you are but you do not have one of the protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010 you may have been discriminated against. This may have breached your human right to private and family life.

How might you be discriminated against when applying to rent a property

Here are examples of situations where you may be able to take action under the Equality Act 2010 because you think you were discriminated against. If the landlord:

  • refused to rent you the premises without good reason
  • offered you the premises for rent on worse terms than other people, for example, a higher rent
  • fails to provide enough information that you can understand about a waiting list and you miss the property when it is free available for rent
  • restricts your use of communal facilities, for example, a garden
  • refusing to provide benefits and facilities that other tenants have, for example, being allowed to keep a pet.

A local authority mustn’t discriminate against you in the way they allocate social housing. This means their housing allocation policies, as well as individual decisions, must follow the Equality Act. For example, if a housing officer refuses to allocate a property to you because you’re of Somali origin, this could be unlawful discrimination because of race. On the other hand it may be refused because you don’t have any rights to stay in the UK under immigration law and therefore no right to public housing.

Harassment and victimisation

It is unlawful for a landlord or an agent acting on her/his behalf, to discriminate against you or harass you.

You might also want to check if you have been the victim of hate crime. See Hate crime.

You’ve been refused social housing because of rent arrears or anti-social behaviour

Your local authority may have a policy which says you can’t get social housing if you have a history of unacceptable behaviour. Unacceptable behaviour includes anti-social behaviour or if you’re in rent arrears.

In this situation the general test is whether or not your landlord, or potential landlord, has acted with ‘proportionality’ in not renting a property to you. This is a complicated question because of other responsibilities your landlord has towards you if you are a public sector tenant.

You think you’ve been refused social housing because you have a disability

If you think you have been refused social housing because of your disability you might need some evidence to support this. A landlord has extra responsibilities under the Equality Act 2010 for disabled tenants. You can ask your landlord (or future landlord) to make certain changes to the accommodation you are renting), and to their policies when this is necessary for you to be able to live in the property. These changes are known as making reasonable adjustments. Landlords who refuse to make reasonable adjustments may be discriminating against you and may be acting unlawfully. Reasonable adjustments can include:

  • providing aids and services. An example of this is providing an audio copy of a tenancy agreement. Another example is fitting a special door entry system so that a deaf person knows when someone is at the door
  • changing practices, policies or procedures. An example of this would be changing the parking policy so that a disabled tenant who has difficulty walking can park in front of the building
  • changing a term of the tenancy agreement. An example of this would be changing a term which says tenants can't make improvements, so that a disabled person can make an improvement for their disability. Another example would be changing a term which bans pets, so that a disabled person can have an assistance dog.

What is reasonable will depend on the individual circumstances and could include:

  • the type and length of your letting
  • how much difference the adjustment will make to you
  • whether the landlord could reasonably afford to make the adjustment.

Landlord lives in the same property

If your landlord lives in the same property that you want to rent there are some exceptions to the rules about what might count as discrimination. However even in this situation the landlord cannot legally discriminate against you on the grounds of your race or ethnic origin.

A landlord does not usually have to make reasonable adjustments for you if you have a disability and they live in the same property as you.

Taking action

If your landlord has discriminated against you, you can take legal action under the Equality Act but you might want to try first to resolve the problem by negotiating with the landlord.

You may be able to resolve the problem by talking informally to your landlord or you can make a formal complaint. You can also take court action.

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