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What doesn't count as unlawful discrimination in housing?

This advice applies to Wales

Generally speaking, an owner or landlord isn’t allowed to directly discriminate against you when you want to rent or buy a property. However, there are some exceptions under the Equality Act 2010.

Read this page to find out more about what doesn't count as unlawful discrimination in housing.

If there’s a law which says it’s not unlawful to discriminate against you

It’s not unlawful to discriminate against you if there’s a law which allows it. For example, some people from abroad are not eligible by law for local authority housing or help with homelessness. If a local authority refuses to provide social housing to someone from abroad because the law says they’re not eligible, this is not unlawful race discrimination.

Selling or letting a property privately

Sometimes when an owner wants to sell or let their property it’s not unlawful discrimination if they refuse to sell or let it to you because of a protected characteristic.

When does the exception apply?

The exception only applies where:

  • the owner is living in the property, and
  • the owner is selling or letting the property without using an estate agent, and
  • the owner is not advertising the sale or letting of the property - a for sale sign counts as an advertisement.

The Equality Act calls an owner like this an owner occupier.

Example

Your friend tells you her neighbour is looking for someone to buy his house. He wants to sell it privately and is not using an estate agent. He’s also not advertising the sale. You call to arrange a viewing but when the owner learns you’re not a Christian he refuses to let you see it as he wants to sell the house to someone who shares his Christian faith.

This is not unlawful discrimination because of religion or belief as it falls within the owner occupier exception. You wouldn’t be able to take action under the Equality Act.

When does the exception not apply?

If the owner refuses to sell or let you their property because of your race it’s always unlawful discrimination.

Letting a small property

Sometimes if an owner or tenant wants to let part of their property, it’s not unlawful discrimination if they refuse to let or sublet it to you because of a protected characteristic.

When does the exception apply?

The exception applies where the tenant or owner, or a family member of the tenant or owner, lives in the property and will continue to live in the property when they let part of it to you.

You must also share some of the accommodation with the person living in the property. The accommodation you must share includes - for example:

  • bathrooms or toilets
  • kitchen
  • living room.

The exception doesn’t apply, if you’re only sharing storage space or means of access - for example, the entrance hall.  

Who counts as a family member?

The following people count as family members:

  • spouses, civil partners or unmarried partners
  • parents or grandparents
  • children or grandchildren
  • spouses, civil partners or unmarried partners of a child or grandchild
  • brothers or sisters.

What properties does the exception apply to?

The exception applies to small properties which can only accommodate a certain number of households or people.

In addition to the person living in the property and their household, the property must not be able to accommodate more than:

  • two other separate households, or
  • six individual tenants or lodgers.

The Equality Act calls these properties small premises.

Example

Three women share a flat and advertise for a fourth woman to occupy the spare bedroom. All the tenants share a bathroom and kitchen. The flat only has four single bedrooms and so wouldn’t normally be able to accommodate more than six tenants.  

As the flat falls within the small premises exception it’s not unlawful discrimination if you can’t rent the room because you’re a man. You wouldn’t be able to complain about sex discrimination in this case.

Example

A Catholic family are looking for someone to rent a spare floor in their three storey house. The tenant will share the kitchen with the family but will have their own bathroom. The house is only big enough to accommodate another household.

This also falls within the small premises exception. It’s not unlawful discrimination if they refuse to let it to you because you’re not a Catholic.

What if your landlord discriminates against you when you’re living in the property?

A landlord of a property which counts as small premises, is allowed to discriminate against you when you’re living in the property. This is not unlawful discrimination.

Example

You’re renting a room in a flat which counts as small premises. The owner also lives in the property and you share a kitchen and bathroom. She tells you to leave when she learns you’re having a sex change. This is not unlawful discrimination because of gender reassignment as it falls within the small premises exception. You wouldn’t be able to take action under the Equality Act.

When does the exception not apply?

A landlord of a property which counts as small premises is not allowed to discriminate against you because of race. This is always unlawful discrimination.

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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