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If someone's harassed you in housing

This advice applies to Wales

Harassment is where someone creates a atmosphere that makes you feel uncomfortable. This could be because you feel offended, intimidated or humiliated.

If you’re being harassed by someone like your landlord or an estate agent, it might be discrimination.

You might be able to take action to stop the harassment. You might also be able to get compensation.

The law that protects you from harassment in housing is under section 26 of the Equality Act 2010.

It might be harassment if someone’s:

  • verbally abused you
  • asked very personal questions, for example about your disability or religion
  • put up posters that make you feel uncomfortable
  • made rude physical gestures or facial expressions towards you
  • told you jokes of a sexual nature
  • made comments you find offensive, for example on social media

If the harassment is very serious, it might also be a crime. For example, it’s a crime if someone has sexually assaulted you or made physical threats.

If your harassment problem isn’t to do with your home or a home you're trying to rent or buy, you should take action in a different way.

If you’re worried about your safety

Call the police on 999 for an emergency and 101 if it isn't an emergency.

Check what’s harassment under discrimination law

For all types of harassment, the behaviour you’re complaining about has to be something you didn’t want. The law calls this ‘unwanted conduct’.

You also always need to show that the person who harassed you meant to make you feel a certain way, or that you felt that way even though it wasn’t their intention. This is called ‘purpose or effect’. If the person didn’t mean to make you feel this way, it also has to be ‘reasonable’ that you felt that way.

You need to show that the purpose or effect of the conduct was that it violated your dignity or created an environment that:

  • humiliates you
  • offends you
  • intimidates you
  • is hostile
  • is degrading

You also have to show that your situation is covered by one of the 3 types of harassment in discrimination law.

The first type is where the unwanted conduct related to a relevant 'protected characteristic' like sex or race.

The second type is where the unwanted conduct is of a sexual nature.

The third type is where you’re treated worse because of rejecting or submitting to unwanted sexual behaviour or behaviour related to gender reassignment or sex. This is called ‘being treated less favourably’.

It doesn’t matter if the behaviour is directed at you or not - for example, if you overhear the staff at a letting agency making racist jokes or comments to each other.

The Equality Act 2010 protects you against harassment related to protected characteristics - like race or being disabled.

The law says the behaviour must create ‘an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for you’ or ‘violate your dignity’.

Protected characteristics are covered in sections 5 to 18 of the Equality Act 2010.

Check if your protected characteristic is covered by the law

The protected characteristics for harassment in housing are in Part 4 of the Equality Act 2010.

They are:

Disability

You’re covered for a disability you have now and any you’ve now recovered from. A disability could be physical or mental - you could be covered even if you don’t consider yourself disabled.

You should - check if your disability is covered by the Equality Act 2010.

Disability is defined in section 6 of the Equality Act 2010.

Gender reassignment

The law covers 'gender reassignment' - this means if you're transgender.

You’re covered if you:

  • are planning to transition - you don’t need to have had any medical treatment
  • are in the process of transitioning
  • have already transitioned

If you identify as non-binary but you aren’t transitioning, you might be covered but the law is complicated. You’ll need to get specialist advice before you go any further.

Gender reassignment is defined in section 7 of the Equality Act 2010.

Race

This includes your:

  • colour - for example if you're black or white
  • nationality
  • ethnic origin - for example if you’re a Romany Gypsy
  • national origin - this could be different from your nationality, for example if your family is from India but you have a British passport

Race is defined in section 9 of the Equality Act 2010.

Sex

This is whether you’re a man or a woman.

If you identify as non-binary you might be covered but the law is complicated. You’ll need to get specialist advice before you go any further.

Sex is defined in section 11 of the Equality Act 2010.

If you’ve been harassed for another reason

You can’t take action for harassment under Part 4 of the Equality Act 2010 if you were harassed because of your: 

  • sexual orientation
  • religion or belief

You might still be able to take action under discrimination law. It might be ‘direct discrimination’ - check if your problem is discrimination. This rule is in section 212(5) of the Equality Act 2010.

If you've been harassed because of pregnancy and maternity, you can't take action under harassment law but you might be able to argue that you've been harassed because of your sex (because you're female). You might also be able to show it's another type of discrimination - check the types of discrimination.

You won’t be able to take action under Part 4 of the Equality Act 2010 for age discrimination, or because you’re married or in a civil partnership. Part 4 is the part of the Act that deals with housing. 

The situation might also be a ‘hate crime’ - you can report a hate crime to the police. You might also be able to take action about harassment using the Protection from Harassment Act

Show what happened was ‘unwanted conduct’

You’ll need to prove the behaviour was ‘unwanted’ - you don’t need to have asked the person to stop.

They might argue it’s not unwanted if you’ve done similar things yourself. For example if you’ve told racist jokes before, your landlord might say you can’t be offended by other people telling racist jokes.

You’ll need to explain why what happened to you was unwanted - for example because it was more serious.

If someone’s managing a property or tenancies, they’re not allowed to harass you. This might be, for example, a landlord or someone who collects rent.

The harassment doesn’t have to be related to your own protected characteristic for you to take action. For example, you might be offended by a racist poster in your landlord’s office. It doesn’t matter what race you are - you could be offended or intimidated.

If you're not sure if the harassment is related to a protected characteristic, look at the evidence. For example if you only started being treated unfairly after people found out you’re disabled, it might be related to a protected characteristic.

Show that what happened had the ‘purpose or effect’ of offending you

You’ll need to show:

  • the person who harassed you meant to offend you - this is called having ‘the purpose’ of offending you
  • you were offended by what happened, even if someone didn’t mean to offend you - this is the ‘effect’ it had on you

If the person didn’t mean to offend you, it will only be harrassment if it was ‘reasonable’ for you to be offended. For example if you started a conversation about gender with your landlord and they say women shouldn’t work, they might say that it wasn’t reasonable for you to be offended.

If you're thinking of taking legal action, check what the court will take into account when making a decision about 'purpose or effect'. It's section 26(4) of the Equality Act 2010.

If you were sexually harassed (type 2)

This can be any unwanted sexual behaviour and doesn't have to be directed at you - including comments about your appearance or seeing pictures of naked people in your landlord’s office.

The law calls this ‘unwanted conduct of a sexual nature’. It says the behaviour must create ‘an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for you’ or ‘violate your dignity’.

Show what happened was ‘unwanted conduct’

You don’t need to have asked the person to stop for it to be unwanted. Your landlord might say it’s not ‘unwanted’ if you’ve done similar things yourself.

You'll need to explain why what happened to you was unwanted - for example, because it was more serious.

Show that what happened had the ‘purpose or effect’ of offending you

You’ll need to show:

  • the person who harassed you meant to offend you - this is called having ‘the purpose’ of offending you
  • you were offended by what happened, even if someone didn’t mean to offend you - this is the ‘effect’ it had on you

If the person didn’t mean to offend you, it will only be harrassment if it was ‘reasonable’ for you to be offended.

For example if you’re asked out once by your letting agent, it’s probably not harassment - even if it makes you uncomfortable. This is because it’s not usually reasonable for you to be offended - unless it happens more than once, or in a rude or offensive way.

If you're thinking of taking legal action, check what the court will take into account when making a decision about 'purpose or effect'. It's section 26(4) of the Equality Act 2010. 

If you’re being treated differently and worse after you were harassed (type 3)

This is where you’re treated differently and worse because of how you reacted to:

  • sexual harassment
  • harassment related to sex
  • harassment related to gender reassignment

The law calls this being treated ‘less favourably' because of your reaction to the harassment. It doesn’t matter if your reaction was to accept or reject the harassment.

Example

Last month Charlotte’s landlord was sexually harassing her - he kept asking her out to dinner and bumping into her when she was leaving the house.

One evening he asked whether she’d go home with him - she said no. 

Charlotte was intimidated by her landlord’s behaviour, so she told him to only contact her in writing. She told him not to come to the house without giving her notice beforehand.

This month Charlotte’s landlord has refused to renew her tenancy agreement and has said he’ll give her a bad reference. If this is because she rejected her landlord’s behaviour, then it’s another act of harassment.

Check who you can take action against

The Equality Act 2010 says you can take action against certain people. This includes your landlord - this might also be a tenant who’s subletting their property to you.

This might be companies or people who discriminate against you when they:

  • sell or rent out a home, such as renting through a letting agent - this is called ‘permission for disposal of premises’ in the law
  • need to agree to sell or rent out a home, such as a joint owner -  this is called ‘permission for disposal of premises’ in the law
  • manage a home, such as landlords, agents and people collecting rent - this is called ‘management of premises’ in the law

If an estate agent is acting on behalf of a landlord and they’ve discriminated against you, you might be able to take action against both of them. This will depend on what the landlord has allowed the estate agent to do.

For example, a landlord might have a defence if an estate agent acted against instructions to not harass people.

Who you can take action against in relation to selling, renting or management of premises is covered by sections 33 to 35 of the Equality Act 2010.

Part 4 of the Equality Act that covers housing doesn’t cover everywhere you might be living. It doesn't cover places like hotels, holiday homes or prisons. If your problem is about any of these, find out if you can take action.

If your problem is with university housing, you’ll need to take action about discrimination in education.

Check if it’s criminal harassment

It could be criminal harassment as well as discrimination if your landlord tries to make your life difficult by doing things like:

  • interfering with or cutting off services such as water, gas or electricity
  • visiting your home regularly without warning, especially at night

Contact the housing department at your local council or the police - they can take action against your landlord.

You might also be able to claim compensation using a different harassment law called the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.

You can get help from an adviser if you’re not sure what you should do.

You should also report your landlord to Rent Smart Wales if they’re breaking the law.

If someone else is harassing you

If you’re being treated badly by other tenants or neighbours, you can complain about your neighbour.

You might be able to take action against service providers if you’ve been harassed by someone else who deals with your home, for example:

  • surveyors and valuers
  • solicitors
  • mortgage lenders

If you’re not protected by the Equality Act

If it’s not harassment under the Equality Act 2010, you can still complain about your private landlord or complain about social housing.

If you think you’re protected by the Equality Act

You can decide what to do about your housing discrimination problem.

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