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Discrimination in Tenancy Agreements

It is illegal for landlords to discriminate against tenants on the basis of race, gender, disability, sexuality or religion.

As it is illegal for landlords to discriminate against tenants on the basis of race, gender, disability, sexuality or religion the following acts are prohibited:

  • Renting a property to certain tenants on worse terms than other tenants
  • Treating certain tenants differently when setting policies regarding facilities. For example, these could include a laundry or garden access.
  • Evicting or harassing certain tenants because of their race, gender, disability, sexuality or religion.
  • Refusing to incorporate reasonable demands in a tenancy agreement necessary for a disabled person to live at the property. For example, problems could occur if a landlord held a ‘no pets’ policy and did not offer to alter it for a blind tenant with a guide dog.

Most of the discrimination rules referred to do not usually apply if the landlord is residing in the same property as the tenant. However, the landlord is still forbidden to discriminate because of a tenant’s race.

Landlord must comply with the legislation set out in the Disability Discrimination Act, Race Relations Act and Sex Discrimination Act .

Sex Discrimination Act

Landlords must be aware of the terms of the The Sex Discrimination Act 1975 (SDA). It is written in terms of discrimination against women, but also applies to discrimination against men.

The Sex Discrimination Act defines two kinds of sex discrimination, generally referred to as direct and indirect

Direct sex discrimination

Inferior treatment towards a woman than a man because of her sex. In considering whether a particular case constitutes direct sex discrimination it is necessary to consider whether the treatment of the woman was less favourable than the treatment which was/would be accorded to a man; and, if so, whether the less favourable treatment happened due to the fact that the woman was female.

Indirect sex discrimination

Consists of treatment which may be equal to each sex, in a formal sense, but is in practice discriminatory in its effect on one sex. Indirect sex discrimination arises where a landlord applies to a woman a condition or requirement with which she much comply in order to qualify for, or obtain tenancy. In order for this type of discrimination to have taken place, all of the following criteria must be fulfilled by the condition/requirement:

  • it is applied equally to men and to women.
  • it is such that the proportion of women who can comply with it is considerably smaller than the proportion of men who can comply with it.
  • it is to the disadvantage of the woman in question because she cannot comply with it.
  • it cannot be shown by the landlord to be objectively justifiable regardless of the sex of the person to whom it is applied.

A landlord can show that a condition or requirement set can be objectively justified if it:

  • has been set to achieve a legitimate objective.
  • it is necessary in the circumstances to achieve that objective.
  • it is an appropriate way to achieve the said objective (this is where the degree of disadvantage to women is compared with the benefit gained by achieving the objective).


The SDA also makes it unlawful to victimise a tenant by treating him or her less favourably than another tenant because they have brought a sex discrimination claim or alleged that someone has committed an act of sex discrimination.

Disability Discrimination Act

The Disability Discrimination Act makes it illegal for landlords to discriminate against tenant because of a disability. The definition of a 'disabled person', as given by the Act is:

"A person has a disability if he or she has a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on his/her ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities"

People who have had an impairment but have since recovered are covered under the Act (for example, people who have had cancer). If someone is receiving medical treatment which alleviates or removes the effects (though not the impairment) they are covered under the Act. The sole exception to this is people with 'minor' visual impairments corrected by spectacles.

In accordance with the Act, a landlord is discriminating if:

  • For a reason that relates to the tenant's disability, he treats the tenant less favourably than he would treat others.
  • The landlord is unable to show that the treatment in question is justified.
  • The landlord fails to comply with Part 2, Sec 6 of the Disability Discrimination Act. In the case of tenancy agreements, this section deals with adjustments that are made to such agreements in order to suit the disabled tenant.
  • The landlord cannot show that his failure to comply with Sec 6 is justified.

Examples of ways in which the landlord may treat a disabled tenant less favourably include:

  • Refusing to let to a disabled person.
  • Offering different facilities to a disabled person.
  • Evicting a disabled person.
  • Refusing to give people consent to sub-let to a disabled person.
  • Refusing a disabled person access.
  • Requesting a higher deposit from a disabled person.
  • Charging a higher rent for a disabled person.
  • Providing you with a less secure tenancy because you are disabled.

Aiding Unlawful Acts

A person who knowingly helps someone else to do something made unlawful by the Act is also treated as having acted unlawfully.


Under the Disability Discrimination Act, it is illegal to victimise any disabled person who is making use of, or attempting to make use of, their rights under the act. Anyone who helps disabled people protest under the Act are also protected from being victimised or being treated less favourably. Therefore, the Act protects any disabled person taking legal proceedings against a landlord, as well as anybody giving evidence to support their claim


Under some circumstances it may be acceptable to treat a disabled tenant differently from others. For example:

  • Refusing to let to a disabled person is sometimes justified on the grounds of health and safety
  • It is acceptable to refuse a disabled person access to a facility, if allowing them access results in the prevention of others using the facility. In such a case it would be acceptable to allow the disabled person different access to the facility than would usually be given.
  • If a disabled person is unable to enter into a legally enforceable agreement, or give any informed consent, it is acceptable to refuse to let.

Making Adjustments to Properties

It is not a requirement for landlords to make any alterations to their properties in order to make them more easily accessible for disabled people. Nor is there anything in the Act to prevent positive action in favour of disabled people.

Racial Discrimination Act

Under the Race Relations Act it is unlawful for a landlord to discriminate against a tenant on racial grounds. The Act defines racial grounds as including race, colour, nationality or ethnic or national origins.

According to the Race Relations Act, there are four main types of racial discrimination: direct, indirect, victimisation and harassment.

Direct Racial Discrimination

Direct racial discrimination takes place when you are able to show that you have been treated less favorably on racial grounds than others in a comparable situation. It occurs when:

  • A landlord refuses to rent accommodation to a tenant because of their race.
  • A landlord provides a lower standard of service because of your race (for example, if a higher deposit).

Indirect Racial Discrimination

Indirect racial discrimination may fall into one of two categories, depending on the racial grounds of discrimination. The first is on grounds of colour or nationality and the second is based on race, ethnic or national origin

1. On grounds of colour or nationality

This occurs when an apparently non-discriminatory requirement or condition made by the landlord which applies equally to all tenants:

  • can only be met by a considerably smaller proportion of people from a particular racial group.
  • which is to the detriment of a person from that group because he or she cannot meet it.
  • the requirement or condition cannot be justified on non-racial grounds.

2. On grounds of race, ethnic or national origin

This occurs when a provision, criterion or practice which, on the face of it, has nothing to do with race and is applied equally to all tenants:

  • puts, or would put, tenants of the same race or ethnic or national origins at a particular disadvantage when compared with others
  • puts a tenant of that race or ethnic or national origin at that disadvantage
  • cannot be shown to be a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

The definition of indirect discrimination on the grounds of race, ethnic or national origin is in general terms broader than on the grounds of colour or nationality and as a result it may be easier to establish racial discrimination than previously.


This has a specific legal meaning under the Race Relations Act. It occurs if a tenant is treated less favourably than others in the same circumstances because they have complained about racial discrimination, or supported someone else who has. This would involve doing one or more of the following:

  • brought proceedings under the Race Relations Act against the landlord or anyone else.
  • given evidence or information in connection with proceedings brought by another person under the Race Relations Act.
  • done anything under the Race Relations Act or with reference to it.
  • alleged that a person has acted in a way which would breach the Race Relations Act. The complaint does not need to expressly claim discrimination when making the complaint.


The definition of harassment introduced by the Race Relations Act 1976 (Amendment) Regulations 2003 applies when the discrimination is on grounds of race or ethnic or national origins, but not colour or nationality. Harassment on grounds of colour or nationality amounts to less favourable treatment and may be unlawful direct discrimination.

A landlord harasses a tenant on grounds of race or ethnic or national origins when he or she engages in unwanted conduct that has the purpose or effect of violating the tenant's dignity, or creating an intimidating or hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them.

Tackling Discrimination

If you think you may have been discriminated against then you have the right to take legal action. The first step is to seek advice from a solicitor, the citizens' advice bureau or a legal advice centre.

Eviction and Harassment

All tenants have the right to live in the property they are renting and be free from harassment. There are certain terms which must be met if a landlord is to evict a tenant according to the type of tenancy agreement in place. For more on this see ending a tenancy agreement. One of the reasons a landlord may have for evicting a tenant is rent arrears or if they have breached the terms of the tenancy agreement.

All evictions have to follow the correct legal procedure and the required period of notice must be given to the tenant before they can be legally evicted.


If a landlord tries to make it difficult for a tenant to remain in a property by issuing verbal, written or physical threats and causing damage to the property, then this could be classified as harassment.

Harassment by a landlord could include:

  • Making it difficult for the tenant to access water, gas or electricity through failing to pay the bills and restricting access.
  • Visiting the property without prior notice and at an inconvenient time of day.
  • Trying to interfere with mail delivered to the property.
  • Organising for workmen to arrive at the property without giving the tenant notice.
  • Entering the property when the tenant is at work or out without seeking permission first.
  • Not carrying out the required repair works as a landlord, and leaving the property in a dangerous condition, where it would not be safe to live. For more information, see landlords' and tenants' repairing obligations.
  • Starting to repair certain parts of the property and leave the work uncompleted for long periods of time.
  • Making it difficult or not allowing the tenant to have visitors to the property.
  • Arranging for other tenants to move into the property, with the intention of disruption and nuisance being caused to the existing tenant.
  • Stopping the tenant having access to certain rooms in the property.
  • Requiring tenants to sign agreements which take away their legal rights.

Tenants experiencing harassment can take action. It may be possible to receive support from the local authority and in some situations take the landlord responsible to court. If a tenant is being harassed they can consider taking action in the following ways:

  • Firstly by speaking to the landlord and asking them to stop the harassment.
  • Keeping an up-to-date record of harassment which has or is taking place. This could be done through keeping a diary, notes, photographs or video recordings.
  • Requesting that all communication from the landlord is put in writing, so if the case is taken to court, there is evidence available.
  • Contacting the landlord in writing and stating that if the harassment continues then legal action may have to be taken.
  • Ensuring that when seeing the landlord to discuss anything someone else is present as a witness e.g. family member, friend or work colleague.
  • Discussing the issues with any other tenants who may have the same landlord, to find out if they are experiencing similar problems.

If harassment is taking place and a tenant is concerned about violence used, or that violence may take place, then the police should be informed.


Tenancy agreements will normally contain a clause which forbids the tenant, their visitors and any other member of the household from behaving in a way which may be classified as harassment or anti-social behaviour. If these terms of the agreement are breached, then the landlord is able to try and evict the tenants.

For more information on ending a tenancy agreement and reasons for evicting tenants see the page on section 8 notice to quit.

Tackling Discrimination

If you think you may have been discriminated against then you have the right to take legal action. The first step is to seek advice from a solicitor, the citizens' advice bureau or a legal advice centre.

Speak with a lawyer right now and sort out your legal problem