In the UK discrimination against people in providing services or in the course of business is outlawed by the Equality Act 2010. This includes the provision of accommodation, either to a tenant under a lease, or to a lodger under a licence of occupation.
Discrimination can be either direct or indirect:
Section 13 of the Equality Act 2010 describes direct discrimination as treating any person less favourably than another because of some “protected characteristic” which the person has. The list of protected characteristics in the Act includes; age, gender, disability, religion, sexual orientation, race, colour, and nationality.
Indirect discrimination in relation to tenancies, is the act of attaching some particular condition or requirement to a tenancy which, whilst it does not appear discriminatory at first glance, has a discriminatory affect because it will have a disproportionate impact on people with a particular protected characteristic.
An example could be where a landlord refuses to allow pets. This requirement may not be seen as discriminatory, but it could be considered as disability discrimination because it would prevent people who are blind and require the aid of a guide dog from taking the tenancy. In these cases the landlord must alter or waive the condition or requirement in order to accommodate the protected characteristic.
Grounds for Discrimination
Actions which have the potential to be discriminatory may be lawful if it can be proven that it is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. For example, in the example above where a landlord lets a property subject to a condition that no animals are permitted, this is indirectly discriminatory against blind people, but may be allowable if there is a genuine health and safety reason for prohibiting guide dogs, or if the landlord is required to observe restrictive covenants which are attached to the property.
Duty to Make Reasonable Adjustments for Disability
Disability discrimination is the main type of discrimination which is most likely to be relevant to landlords. This is an area in which it is very easy for people who are not well informed to discriminate inadvertently and accidentally by not considering the needs and requirements of disabled people.
Under section 36 of the Equality Act 2010 a landlord has a duty to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate disabled tenants where an obstacle places them at a substantial disadvantage. This may include installing ramp access or other alterations to a property. The landlord would not usually be responsible for making extensive disabled access modifications to the property, but he may have to alter the terms of the tenancy agreement to allow the tenant to make these modifications.
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