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Racism among letting agents

No Blacks No Dogs No IrishHousing Journalist Samir Jeraj writes about discrimination in housing

Last week, a BBC investigation in a small part of London uncovered racism amongst lettings agents.

Agents were casually happy to deny housing to black tenants on sight, and to prevent ‘Afro-Caribbeans’ on instructions from an undercover reporter posing as a landlord.

Just following orders …

When confronted they offered what you could call a variant on the Numberburg defence ‘the landlord told us to do it’ (just following orders…..).

As a child of 1960s migrants, this felt like a time-warp – perhaps I was naïve to think this type of racism had been left behind.

I’ve dealt with my share of racism, often helping those with cases against public authorities like the Police (the embedded institutional racism we came to understand after the murder of Stephen Lawrence).

The 1960′s spirit

Rarely have I experienced it directly in the way people did in the 1960s. The 60s spirit is there however, the lettings agents in question were quickly picketed by protesters. Whether there will be legal action or an improvement in the abysmal record of the Property Ombudsman in pursuing cases remains to be seen.

Like most discrimination, the issue boils down to one of power. In this case the agents have the power to select tenants, given to them by landlords through some type of ‘agency agreement’.

Landlords need to understand that they can be held accountable for the actions of their agents – even if a landlord has never told an agent to do something illegal (like racial discrimination) they may still be held liable [I agree - Ed].

I for one am tempted to offer my services to other renters mystery-shopping to hunt down racist lettings agents.

Other forms of discrimination

It’s also important to remember that racism isn’t the only form of discrimination which is illegal – the 2010 Equality Act includes sexism, ageism, religious discrimination, disability, and sexuality.

Unfortunately, one area where it is still legal to discriminate is against tenants who are receiving housing benefit.

As tenants and landlords, we should expect the highest professional standards from lettings agents.

Someone pointed out in a comment under my last (somewhat controversial article), the proper regulation of lettings agents is one area where landlords and tenants can agree on.



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5 Responses to Racism among letting agents

  1. Housing benefit discrimination is bizarre. I’m a good, clean tenant with one child that lost her job. Yet you would think I was a murderer/arsonist with how private landlords and their agents treat me.

    Still looking for the landlord that understands that being on benefit doesn’t mean you belong on Jeremy Kyle or the daily mail.

  2. One real issue is that if a tenant has connections to another country they are more able to leave the UK, so making it very hard for a landlord to chase any depts. I don’t care what colour my tenants are, but would rather that they convinced me that they would always be possible to trace.

    (I understand that in a lot of country it is considered the duty for “children” to return home to look after their parents if they are ill, and that that comes before any duty to a landlord or employer – to the extent that the tenant may just leave all they belonging behind and not tell the landlord that they are going.)

    If it did not cost so much and take so long to safety and legally cope when a tenant went missing I expect that more landlords would be willing to take the risk on people that have not been in the UK for most of their life.

    A home owning guarantor that is VERY well established in the UK is one way to put my mind at rest.

    However is it legal to require that the guarantor owns a home in the UK?

  3. Re Housing benefit discrimination is bizarre.

    The problem with anyone on benefits is that is it nearly impossible to make someone pay up after a court judgment unless they have a job (so you can get an attachment of earnings order) or they own property you can make them sell.

    Also if someone has a low income from employment the courts are known to order them to only pay £5 pcm off the dept!

    (I have just agreed to rent too someone on housing benefit they also have a dog, but they have a home owning guarantor. Hopefully they will stray for a long time as not many agents would touch them.)

  4. re: ian.

    I had never thought of a court judgment as I’m always on time with my bills so have never been part of such things.
    But surely a credit check, which most agencies and landlords claim to do, would flag up such problems. I know past performance is no guarantee of future, but it is a good indicator. Interviewing the prospective tenants should also give a “feeling” for how they would be.

    I have no guarantor as a few of us have all suffered lay offs. But will try and do whatever I can to put a potential landlord at ease, with no luck so far.

  5. There is a big problem with credit checks, a credit check just shows up past count judgments, but most people will not waist the money getting a count judgement against someone on benefits as they know that they can’t enforce the count judgment.

    The type of credit checks that landlords/agents are allowed to do, do not show if every day bills like gas have been paid on time. The credit agents will not even record if rent has been paid on time. So unless someone has lots of credit cards etc a credit check does not tell you much about them.

    (I had a credit check come back clean recommending I rented to someone, then I wrote to the owners of all the past addresses that showed up on the credit check and found two past landlords that have lost money due damage to carpets that had not been paid for as well as some unpaid rent and the tenant just leaving without giving notice. It takes a lot more time and effort to check out someone that is not “middle class”, so most agents tend to take the easy option and not consider them in the first place.)




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About the post author:

Samir Jeraj

Samir Jeraj is a journalist with a focus on issues in private rented housing. He was a Green Party councillor in Norwich from 2008-2012. Find out more about Samir on his website and connect with him on Google+



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