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Discrimination in housing - what's the unfair treatment when you want to rent or buy?

This advice applies to Scotland

If you’ve been treated unfairly when you want to rent or buy a property and it’s  because of who you are, you may have been discriminated against.

The law which says you mustn’t be discriminated against is called the Equality Act 2010. Discrimination which is against the Equality Act is unlawful. If you’ve experienced unlawful discrimination, you may be able to do something about it.

Read this page to find out more about what unfair treatment is unlawful discrimination when you want to rent or buy a property.

Top tips

If you want to know if unlawful discrimination has taken place you need to check:

  • why you are being treated unfairly
  • who is treating you unfairly
  • what's the unfair treatment
  • how is the treatment unfair or what type of discrimination it is.

What unfair treatment can be unlawful discrimination under the Equality Act?

Only certain types of behaviour by someone who has the right to let or sell you a property - for example, a social or private landlord or estate agent, can be unlawful discrimination under the Equality Act.  

What kind of behaviour can be unlawful discrimination?

The Equality Act says the following things can be unlawful discrimination by someone who has the right to sell or let a property, if it's because of who you are:

  • offering you a property on worse or less favourable terms
  • refusing to let or sell you a property
  • treating you badly or less favourably when you want to rent or buy a property
  • behaving in a way which causes you distress or offends or intimidates you - the Equality Act calls this harassment
  • punishing you because you complain about discrimination, or help someone else complain - the Equality Act calls this victimisation.

Why are you treated unfairly?

Remember, it’s only unlawful discrimination if you’re treated unfairly because of:

  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • marriage and civil partnership
  • pregnancy and maternity
  • race
  • religion or belief
  • sex
  • sexual orientation.

The Equality Act calls these things protected characteristics.

Examples of unlawful discrimination

Here are some examples of when someone who has the right to sell or let you a property mustn’t discriminate against you.

Offering you a property on worse or less favourable terms

Someone like a landlord or an estate agent mustn’t let or sell you a property on worse terms because you have a particular protected characteristic.

Example

A private landlord of a shared house has asked you to provide a higher deposit than the other tenants who are women, because you’re a man. This would be unlawful sex discrimination.

Refusing to let or sell you a property

If someone like a landlord or an estate agent refuses to let or sell you a property, it mustn’t be because of a protected characteristic.

Example

A housing association is refusing to let you a flat because you’re a transsexual. This is unlawful discrimination because of gender reassignment.

Treating you badly or less favourably when you want to rent or buy a property

Someone like landlord or an estate agent mustn’t treat you badly when you want to rent or buy a property.

Example

An estate agent is taking longer to respond to your enquiries about a flat you want to rent because you’re Asian. This is unlawful race discrimination.

Harassing you

Someone like a landlord or an estate agent mustn't behave in a threatening way or use abusive language which offends you or makes you feel intimidated when you want to buy or rent a property. If it's related to a protected characteristic it's unlawful discrimination.

Example

Someone from your local authority is being very rude and verbally abusive to you when you enquire about housing because you’re a transsexual. It makes you feel very upset and intimidated. This could be harassment related to gender reassignment.  

Victimising you

Someone like a landlord or an estate agent, mustn't punish you if you complain about unlawful discrimination or because you help someone who’s been discriminated against.

Example

Last year you helped a friend with his discrimination complaint against his housing association. You’ve recently been turned down for social housing from the same housing association. You think it’s because of the complaint as the housing officer you spoke to told you they don’t want any troublemakers. This could be unlawful victimisation.

What if someone needs to give permission to let or sell a property?

Sometimes, the person selling or letting a property must get permission from someone else before they can let or sell you a property.

The Equality Act says it can be unlawful discrimination if someone who needs to give permission does the following things because of a protected characteristic:

  • refusing to give permission
  • harassing you or the person who asks for permission
  • victimising you or the person who asks for permission.

Example

You’re looking for a room to rent. A friend of yours has a spare room in the flat he’s renting and wants to sublet it to you. However, when he asks his landlord for permission, he refuses because you’re disabled. This is unlawful discrimination because of your disability.

Next steps

Other useful information

Equality Advisory Support Service (EASS)

If you have experienced discrimination, you can get help from the EASS discrimination helpline.

Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)

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