Monday 16 September 2019

Explainer: Everything you need to know about the new housing ad rules

Landlord mustn’t exclude certain people

(Stock picture)
(Stock picture)

Caroline O'Doherty

The latest housing ad rules aim to give everyone an equal chance of a place to live. Here's what it means:

To whom can landlords rent their properties?

Just about anyone they like.

So can they specify the kind of person they want in their advertisement?

No, they have to give everyone an equal chance of being their tenant.

But I'm a landlord and I'd really prefer professional people as tenants - can't I just say that?

No, it's against the law - the Equal Status Acts 2000-2015.

What do the acts say exactly?

They say that while providing goods or services, you can't discriminate against people on the basis of their gender, marital status, family status, age, disability, sexual orientation, race, religion or membership of the Traveller community.

In addition, since 2015, there is a specific prohibition covering accommodation that says you can't discriminate against people who receive rent supplement, housing assistance or social welfare payments.

That prohibition extends to the advertising of accommodation for rent.

So what kind of things should an advert not state?

Some of most common descriptions used in the past that are now prohibited including: 'would suit couple', 'professionals only', 'no rent allowance', 'mature applicants preferred', 'no children allowed'.

But what if the property is not suitable for children - say it has an open staircase? Isn't it in everyone's interest to be clear about the nature of the property?

You can still describe the property and neighbourhood in detail and use illustrations to help prospective tenants make informed decisions about whether to pursue a tenancy.

What's to stop a landlord publishing a perfectly legal advertisement but then selecting tenants based on their preference/prejudice anyway?

It is hard to legislate for the decisions landlords ultimately make but the idea of the legislation is to stop them reinforcing prejudices in the rental sector.

A landlord who might think they would never take a social welfare recipient may change their mind when meeting a prospective tenant.

Where would a case be taken?

To the Workplace Relations Commission.

Despite its name, the WRC deals with more than workplace disputes. The Equality Tribunal was subsumed into it in 2015 and it now adjudicates on complaints under the Equal Status Acts.

Have cases been taken?

They have. Just this week, the country's largest property website, Daft.ie, was ordered to take action to block discriminatory ads appearing on its pages.

That case was taken by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) but individuals have also taken cases - particularly on the refusal of HAP, the housing assistance payment.

One hundred and four HAP-related complaints were referred to the WRC last year.

Compensation payments are usually several thousand euro but can go up to €15,000.

Individuals affected can complain directly to the WRC while the IHREC encourages people who spot discriminatory advertising to notify them.

How do landlords feel about this?

They generally say the law is reasonable but they have a particular problem with HAP, saying they should be allowed to refuse HAP tenants until the scheme is amended to give them greater protections.

They currently lose all rent, including the State-paid portion, if the tenant fails to pay their share.

They also want clarity over the issue of references. They say while it's clear they can't ask for employer references, they feel they should be able to ask for character references.

Are there any exemptions to the rules?

Yes, if the accommodation is a room in your property or a portion of your house or a room-share, you are allowed to specify, for example, what gender you'd rather share with.

Irish Independent

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