Lawyer Urges Caution To Landlords In Wake Of Equality Act

Jonathan Fewster, senior associate at Bircham Dyson Bell LLP believes that the Equality Act should be taken with a dose of common sense by landlords when considering its implications in relation to disabled and ethnic minority tenants.
UK Real Estate and Construction
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Jonathan Fewster, senior associate at Bircham Dyson Bell LLP believes that the Equality Act should be taken with a dose of common sense by landlords when considering its implications in relation to disabled and ethnic minority tenants.

"Housing associations are currently operating in tight times in terms of funding, so this is not good timing; spending to make modifications to properties for disable access for example will be an unwelcome addition to landlord costs," explains Jonathan Fewster.

Legislation has of course addressed discrimination before and most Housing Associations will have robust policies in place. However with new provisions such as the duty to demonstrate an active anti-discrimination policy and the extension of the duty to make reasonable adjustments to common parts I fear there is a risk of a knee jerk reaction. Discrimination carries a powerful social stigma and in their attempts to avoid any such blemish Housing Associations could find themselves neglecting other important considerations

"It's a case of making sure that positive discrimination doesn't become common place. This is about making sure that everyone starts off on a level footing, rather than the minority being given a higher footing in a bid to demonstrate compliance with the Act. Social cohesion and the appropriate allocation of housing stock are still genuine considerations for providers of social housing.

"Housing Association have a duty to think about where they are placing a tenant and whether they will be happy there. Placing them in a hostile environment simply to comply with the Equality Act is misguided and not in the tenant's best interests when more appropriate housing may be available elsewhere."

"A blind attempt to demonstrate buy-in to the equality rules will lead to Landlords abandoning valuable knowledge of their housing stock and existing tenant mix for the sake of ticking the right boxes."

Housing Associations can find themselves hamstrung at the hands of the local authority in tackling equality issues where they are bound to take tenants from the local housing list with little input on selection. In the case of housing units for disabled tenants the configuration of buildings is often fixed at the point of planning permission with allocation being lead by the local authority. Housing Associations will want to rely on local authority compliance and should seek confirmation that adequate equality policies are in place.

Landlords must consider what property is available on their estate, what property is coming online in the near future, which location is most appropriate for disabled or minority residents and treat each application on its merits. In the case of disabled housing there seems little sense in spending public funds on modifying existing buildings when new bespoke housing stock is in the pipeline.

"In short a home is not a standard product. We should work to eradicate discrimination but not lose sight of the central aim of utilising funds to provide the best housing solution for those in need."

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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