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Discrimination in housing - harassment

This advice applies to Scotland

The Equality Act 2010 protects you from harassment by someone like a landlord or estate agent. Harassment is a form of unlawful discrimination and includes things like abusive or threatening comments, jokes or behaviour. If you’ve experienced harassment, you may be able to do something about it.

Read this page to find out more about harassment in housing.

When is it harassment?

Harassment is a form of discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. Discrimination which is against the Equality Act is unlawful. This means you can take action in the civil courts. If you’ve been treated badly, but it’s not unlawful discrimination there may be other things you can do.

Harassment is unwanted behaviour which you find offensive or which makes you feel intimidated or humiliated or which creates a degrading environment.

Unwanted behaviour could be:

  • spoken or written words or abuse
  • offensive emails, tweets or comments on social networking sites
  • images and graffiti
  • physical gestures
  • facial expressions
  • jokes.

You don’t need to have previously objected to something for it to be unwanted.

Who mustn’t harass you?

The following people mustn’t harass you in housing:

  • someone who has the right to sell or let a property
  • a manager of premises.

This will generally be someone like the owner, estate agent or landlord.

When mustn’t you be harassed?

You mustn’t be harassed by someone like a landlord or estate agent when you:

  • want to rent or buy a property
  • when you’re living in a property.

When is harassment unlawful discrimination?

Harassment in housing is unlawful if it’s because of, or related to:

  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • race
  • sex.

The Equality Act calls these things protected characteristics. Harassment because of one of these characteristics is called harassment related to a protected characteristic.

Example

You’ve recently moved into a new flat which you’re renting through an estate agent. You pay the rent directly to them by direct debit. A few days after you moved in the landlady came around to say hello. When she met you she said she didn’t know you were Black.

Since that time she’s started sending you letters asking you to leave. She says you’re not paying your rent and that you have no right to be there. She also makes abusive phone calls at all hours. This is making you feel very distressed and anxious.

This is likely to be harassment related to race and is unlawful under the Equality Act.

When is it not harassment?

It’s not harassment in housing if the behaviour is related to:

  • pregnancy and maternity
  • religion or belief
  • sexual orientation.

But it could be direct discrimination if you’re worse off because of the harassment. Also unwanted behaviour which is because of your pregnancy and maternity may be harassment related to sex.

What’s meant by sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment is where the unwanted behaviour is of a sexual nature.

This can include:

  • sexual comments or jokes
  • physical conduct, including unwelcome sexual advances, touching, forms of sexual assault
  • displaying pictures, photos or drawings of a sexual nature
  • sending emails with a sexual content.

Example

The estate agent who’s showing you around a flat you want to rent is making sexual comments to you. You find it offensive and it makes you feel intimidated. This is likely to count as sexual harassment.

If you’re treated badly because of your reaction to harassment

If you’re treated badly because of your reaction to sexual harassment or harassment which is related to sex or gender reassignment, you may have a claim under the Equality Act. The Act says this is also harassment. You’re protected if you either reject or submit to the harassment.

The person who treats you badly can be the person who actually harassed you, but it can also be someone else.

Example

Your landlord sexually harasses you when he comes to repair your shower. When you reject him he tells you he doesn’t have time to do the repairs now and that you’ll have to find some other way of washing. You’ve tried calling him since then but without success. Your landlord's behaviour after you rejected his advances is unlawful under the Equality Act.

Harassment as a criminal offence

If your landlord harasses you this can also be a criminal offence. The harassment doesn’t have to be related to a protected characteristic for you to take action.

When is harassment a criminal offence?

The criminal offence of harassment is when your landlord, or anyone acting on their behalf - for example an estate agent, does something deliberately that interferes with the enjoyment of your home and is intended to make you leave, or take away your rights.

Examples of harassment include:

  • interfering with or cutting off services such as water, gas or electricity
  • visiting your home regularly without warning, especially at night
  • using threatening behaviour or being physically violent.

What can you do about it?

If you’ve experienced this kind of harassment you can contact your local authority who can take action against your landlord or you can contact the police. If you’re harassed by your landlord you may need advice from an experienced adviser - for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau.

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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