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.