You should only reject a tenant with good reason, else there’s a chance that you may be found to be discriminating, which is actually against the law.
In short, whether or not you illegally discriminate depends on your reason for refusing to rent to someone. If your reason is connected to any of what’s referred to as the ‘protected characteristics’, then you are in the wrong and could be breaking the law. Aside from this, you are free to choose who you want to live in your property.
What is classed as unlawful discriminating?
You cannot reject a prospective tenant because of any of the ‘protected characteristics’, as part of The Equality Act. These are as follows:
- Being or becoming a transsexual person
- Being married or in a civil partnership
- Being pregnant or on maternity leave
- Race, including colour, nationality, ethnicity, or national origin
- Religion, belief, or lack of religion/belief
- Sexual orientation
For example, if you were to explicitly reject a tenant because they are over 70, a man, or because they have mental health issues, you’d be breaking the law. It doesn’t mean that you have to favour these characteristics over other tenants. It simply means that you cannot refuse to rent to someone for any of these reasons.
What is positive discrimination?
You may have heard of positive discrimination, which is allowed. This is when someone’s protected characteristic might actually give them an advantage over other tenants. For instance, you might have a property that has been specially adapted for wheelchairs and disabled people or the elderly. This means that you are well within your rights to choose a disabled or elderly person over anyone else.
Similarly, you might have a property perfect for tenants with children – baby-proofed, secured and safe. In this instance, you may choose to rent to someone pregnant or on maternity leave, as opposed to someone without children or without children on the way.
When can I discriminate?
Discrimination does not necessarily mean unlawful discrimination. There are plenty of reasons why you may not want to rent to someone:
- You believe that they won’t look after your property
- They have numerous County Court Judgements (CCJs) against them
- You get a bad previous landlord reference during the tenant referencing process
- They smoke
- They do not have a sufficient income
- If you simply get an uneasy feeling about them.
Any of these are completely valid reasons to refuse a tenant. In fact, you can choose not to rent to someone for whatever reason you like, aside from the protected characteristics. The anti-discrimination legislation is not there to force you to rent your property to someone you consider to potentially be an unsuitable tenant.
When choosing your tenants, be very careful when choosing who you do and don’t choose to rent to, and the reasons you choose to give when refusing anyone. Your main concerns should always be choosing a tenant that you feel you can trust and who can afford the rent.