Estate agents, letting agents and property management companies

Equality law applies to any business that provides goods, facilities or services to members of the public. This includes estate agents, letting agents and property management companies.

It doesn’t matter whether the service is free, for example, information about properties which is provided at no charge, or whether it must be paid for – it will still be covered by equality law.

 

Possible issues for your business

First, use the list on page What equality law means for your business when you’re providing goods, facilities or services to the public to make sure you know what equality law says you must do as a business providing goods, facilities or services to the public.

Other issues you need to consider are:

  • access to confidential information about a client’s protected characteristics
  • reasonable adjustments to remove barriers for disabled people
  • instructions to discriminate
  • managing premises.

 

Access to confidential information about a client’s protected characteristics

When you run an estate agency or similar business, you will have often have access to people’s homes. This means you may have knowledge about a client’s or customer’s protected characteristics which you would not have without this access. It is important you do not use your knowledge in a way that puts your client or customer at a disadvantage, such as by breaching client confidentiality, if this would count as providing them with a worse service or the same service on worse terms.

For example:
 
An estate agent visits a client’s home to draw up the property details so the house can be put on the market. From letters about medical appointments pinned on a notice board, the estate agent becomes aware that the client is a disabled person who has multiple sclerosis. The estate agent mentions this to a colleague and when the client next contacts the office, the colleague takes the call and asks about their symptoms, which makes the client feel upset that their privacy has been invaded. Even though the colleague did not mean any harm, the client is receiving the service on worse terms than a non-disabled person who would not have been treated in this way and it is therefore possible that this is unlawful discrimination because of disability. The right sort of approach is for the estate agent to avoid commenting on the client’s personal circumstances where these relate to a protected characteristic, and avoiding this sort of breach of client confidentiality.

Reasonable adjustments to remove barriers for disabled people

When you are acting for clients in letting and selling property, you need to think particularly about different communication and accessibility needs that disabled people may have. Depending on the circumstances, meeting people’s needs in this way may be a reasonable adjustment. You can read more about making reasonable adjustments to remove barriers for disabled people.

For example:

An estate agent checks with potential purchasers how they would like to receive property particulars. This gives an opportunity for disabled people with a visual impairment to ask for them to be sent electronically. Providing the chance to request the information in a particular format and then sending the information in that format are examples of reasonable adjustments the estate agent has made.

A letting agent works out of a first floor office without a lift. The agent’s marketing material makes it clear that they will make home visits to potential clients who have a mobility impairment who would not otherwise be able to access their services. The letting agent has made a reasonable adjustment.

Instructions to discriminate

As well as not unlawfully discriminating against a client yourself, you must not accept an instruction to discriminate from a property seller or landlord.

If you accept an instruction from a property seller or landlord to discriminate in disposing of housing premises (which includes letting or selling), this would be against equality law, and the person could bring a legal claim against you.

For example:

A landlord asks a letting agent to say that their flat to let has been taken if a lesbian or gay couple ask about renting it. If the letting agent agrees, they would be just as liable as the landlord for direct discrimination because of sexual orientation.

A property seller asks an estate agent to say that the asking price of a property has gone up if a person of a particular national or ethnic origin expresses interest in viewing the property. If the estate agent agrees, this would be direct discrimination because of race, and both the property owner and the estate agent could be taken to court by the would-be buyer.

Managing premises

If you are managing premises as part of your business, whether those are residential or commercial premises, you must not unlawfully discriminate against, harass or victimise someone who occupies the property in the way you allow the person to use a benefit or facility associated with the property, by evicting the person or by otherwise treating them unfavourably.

For example:

A property management company manages and controls a residential block of flats on behalf of the landlord-owner. The block has a basement swimming pool and a communal garden for use by the tenants. A disabled tenant with a severe disfigurement is told by the company that they can only use the swimming pool at restricted times because other tenants feel uncomfortable in their presence. This would almost certainly be direct discrimination because of disability and/or discrimination arising from disability.

A property management company refuses to allow a lesbian tenant to use facilities which are available to other tenants, or deliberately neglects to inform her about facilities which are available for the use of other tenants, because she had previously made a claim of discrimination against the manager. This would almost certainly be victimisation.

A property management company responds to requests for maintenance issues more slowly or less favourably for one tenant than similar requests from other tenants, because the tenant has a learning disability. This would almost certainly be direct discrimination because of disability in the management of premises.

You may in some circumstances be required to make reasonable adjustments to the premises you manage or the way you manage them to remove barriers for disabled people. You can read more about making reasonable adjustments.

More information

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