Most landlords have a demographic of tenant they are trying to recruit based on their experience. For example, 63% of private landlords say they don’t let to, or prefer not to let to, people who receive housing benefits.
So, now with 2 recent court rulings stating that landlords who say “No DSS tenants” are being discriminatory and in breach of the Equality Act, how will around two-thirds of all landlords be affected?
First let’s look at the background.
In a new ruling by York County Court, benefit discrimination has been judged unlawful and in breach of the Equality Act
The ruling came about at a hearing which took place virtually on Wednesday 1 July 2020, involving Jane (not her real name), a single mum-of-two. Jane, who works part-time, was looking for a new home in October 2018 after receiving a Section 21 ‘no-fault’ eviction from her landlord.
After weeks’ of searching, she found a suitable two-bedroom house for her family. The letting agent, however, told her she could not rent it because of the landlord’s long-standing policy of not accepting tenants in receipt of housing benefit. This made her homeless, and she was forced to move into a hostel with her children. Jane contacted Shelter’s Strategic Litigation Team to take on her case.
District Judge Victoria Elizabeth Mark declared for the first time that “rejecting tenancy applications because the applicant receives housing benefit was unlawfully indirectly discriminatory on the grounds of sex and disability, contrary to […] the Equality Act 2010.”
Responding to the ruling, Chris Norris, policy director at the National Residential Landlords Association, said: “No landlord should discriminate against tenants because they are in receipt of benefits.
“Every tenant’s circumstance is different, and so they should be treated on a case by case basis, based on their ability to sustain the tenancy.”
He added that the government could support tenants by ensuring benefits covered rents entirely.
Previously in February 2018, reports the BBC, single mother Rosie Keogh won compensation for sex discrimination from a lettings agency that refused to consider her as a tenant because she was on state benefit. The case was settled out of court.
And now another case from Birmingham County Court found on the 9th of September a lettings agency were in breach of the Equality Act for telling a disabled prospective tenant that it had a policy of not offering tenancies to housing benefit recipients. This could very well signal a flood gate of cases so it’s important you take stake steps now.
The impact on landlords
Landlords’ reluctance to take housing benefit tenants can be for a range of reasons, for example, some:
landlords’ insurance policies often rule out tenants on benefits;
some buy-to-let mortgage agreements do not allow benefits tenants (always check with your broker)
Plus, landlords who accept tenants receiving benefits are paid in arrears (though landlords can receive rent payments from housing benefit and Universal Credit directly to their accounts).
So, for these landlords, this new ruling may affect them in terms of their mortgage, their buildings insurance and, cash flow.
It may add extra time to them finding the correct tenant type as their weed out the suitable applicants.
Time costs money.
What can landlords do?
Most landlords operate their business based on them building a property portfolio based on a specific type of tenant in a particular area. Landlords select tenants based on their individual merits and circumstances. In the most part, this happens, but sometimes, indirect discrimination can and has occurred. One of the ways this has happened is in the way properties are advertised for rent.
Be careful with your adverts
One of the biggest things adverts should do is tell the reader who you are targeting, but historically this has also been used for advertising to the potential tenant who this property isn’t aimed at.
In this way, terms such as “No DSS”, or “No Housing Benefit”, crop up in lots of adverts, and while this might seem a normal thing for a landlord, rulings have shown that these ads have been indirectly discriminatory (and now illegal).
To stay safe and legal, you should revisit all of your advertising and make sure all listings are focused on who you do want to attract and not on who you don’t.
By talking directly to the type of client you want to appeal to, this should help you attract suitable tenants while remaining on the right side of the law.
As well as adverts, do make sure all your paperwork, property listings, website content is up to date and also reflects these changes.
While this seems like a waste of time, not only will this keep you on the right side of the law but, focusing on your target tenant helps influence your marketing efforts and in fact, makes it easier.
Once you have done this, make sure you revisit with your letting agents and update them on your policy and changes to ads. In the case of Jane above, it was the letting agent that informed the potential tenant of the landlord’s policy. This might have been avoided if different language or advertising was used. We don’t really know, but it helps to err on the side of caution.
How do you attract the tenant types
without being discriminatory?
As discussed above, having a very clear understanding of who your ideal tenant is, and your demographic area will help you to advertise to the right type of tenant without falling foul of the law.
This could include creating a persona or avatar that you focus all your efforts on speaking to them. There are free online tools to help you create personas. While this may seem like a strange this to do – this really does help focus your efforts.
But I want housing benefit tenants
Some of this might not apply to you as your target tenant could be a housing benefit tenant. In this case, it would be sensible to add “Accepts DSS Income” or “Housing benefit tenants welcome”. You are not discriminating, and you are helping the right tenant find your property much faster – saving everyone time and effort and, filling any voids you have.
Focus on talking to the tenant you do want and not the one you don’t. Your marketing and messaging should help the most appropriate tenants self-select themselves. It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen over time. The first priority to do is to make sure your audit all your website content and advertising now.