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Equality Act: what does this mean for Agents and Landlords?

2010 saw the enactment of the Equality Act which provided that Landlords must consider making reasonable adjustments for people with a disability looking to rent their property.

The purpose of the duty included within the Act was to ensure that disabled people do not face barriers to occupation and enjoyment of rental property. The duty applies to the tenant but also to others entitled to occupy such as spouses and children. In so far as this article we are referring to the actual premises themselves and to private rented accommodation. A failure to comply with this duty will of itself amount to a form of discrimination and it is believed that the duty will apply also to agents acting on behalf of landlords. Currently as a new Act there is little case law and no specific code of practice and consideration needs therefore to be given to previous codes, cases and provisions under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.

Generally in respect of premises the duty only applies if there has been a specific request by a person. It is a question of looking at the circumstances and seeing if it is reasonable to assume that a request has been made. This could be as simple as a prospective tenant indicating to an agent that they find it difficult to read the print on a tenancy agreement. This is likely to be sufficient to trigger the duty to look at how you can make the tenancy more accessible to that person and the agent would then be required to take reasonable steps. What is reasonable is objective and will depend on the specific circumstances.

The duty to make adjustments has 2 requirements which apply currently. There will in due course be a third requirement in respect of physical features to common parts when further parts of the Act are brought into force.

Firstly where something puts a disabled person at a disadvantage compared with a non-disabled person reasonable steps must be taken to avoid this. Secondly to provide an auxiliary aid if this prevents the disabled person being at a substantial disadvantage. It is believed in considering this you must have regard to all policies, procedures, rules and requirements and it includes any terms of the letting. The threshold is lower than previously being “substantial disadvantage” and this is defined as being “more than minor or trivial”.

What this means in practice is a landlord must consider any request made. This is at any stage of the process and therefore may apply in the pre tenancy stage and also during the continuance of the tenancy. An example is given of a disabled tenant with mobility problems who asks the landlord to install a walk in shower and grab rail. If the landlord refused they must be able to give clear reasons as to why and to show this would not be unreasonable. The landlord may be able to impose conditions such as the color should match the existing suite or that the tenant must ensure removal at the end of the tenancy. Ultimately it is for the landlord to show the conditions are reasonable and interestingly there does not seem to be a requirement necessarily for the landlord to pay the cost although if an improvement is being made to the property in some way it may be reasonable for the landlord to contribute to the cost. Again it is a question of reviewing all the circumstances to determine what is reasonable.

Currently there is little case law to rely upon even under the 1995 Act. It is hoped that a code of practice will be issued to clarify what parliament contends but for the time being landlords and agents must take care. Generally if in doubt it is probably best to consider any request as potentially triggering these provisions and if any consent is not granted to have noted the reasons why. Both agents and landlords need to be able to step back from the decision they have made and look at the reasons and be satisfied that any reasonable person would support that decision. Currently the bulk of decisions under the 1995 Act have tended to refer to secure tenancies from social housing providers but it is believed that this Act could result in more claims being made. You are warned.

With regard to common parts the Act does provide that reasonable adjustments should be made to physical features. Currently the Home Office has said they are considering when to bring these provisions into force. It is likely that if and when brought into force these will make some fairly significant changes which are believed will offer disabled occupiers greater flexibility and independence. A case of watch this space!”

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