Vetting tenants is a vital part of any landlord’s responsibility. Only a fool would accept an application from someone with a history of trashing properties, or without making at least a cursory check to see whether they can afford the rent.
In addition there are legal regulations, and as a landlord it’s your duty to make sure that your future tenant isn’t an illegal alien, here to take our jobs, sell crack to kids, and whatever else it is that foreigners are supposed to do.
There’s also a face-to-face interview, and an informal assessment.
And here’s where it gets tricky.
Can you refuse to let your property to someone because you just don’t like the look of them?
Back in the good old days, it was easy. If you didn’t want to take an Irish tenant, because of their reputation for laziness, or a recent immigrant from the West Indies, you’d simply put it as an addendum to your ‘To Let’ notice: No blacks, dogs, or Irish (If you’re the kind of landlord who bars on racial grounds, we’ll bet that you’re mean to dogs too).
Can you refuse to let to a homosexual couple because of your distaste for their unnatural lifestyle?
How about for a prospective tenant’s perceived taste in food or music?
To save you scratching your head too much, we’ll answer these questions for you.
No. You can’t. But that doesn’t mean people won’t try and get away with it.
It’s not the 1960s any more, and unlike in the US, where freedom of religion allows you to discriminate against just about anyone, here in the UK, we have a fairly robust set of rules.
Race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation are part of a set of ‘protected characteristics’ which mean that you simply cannot refuse a tenancy or any other service on those grounds.
Take Fergus Wilson for example – one of the country’s biggest private landlords, but who refused to let to tenants of an Indian or Pakistani background because the smell of curry gets into the carpet and the walls.
He may be right. Here at Rentworks tower, we have a curry every Friday night, and the aroma does linger for a while. Plenty of non-Indian people enjoy a good curry, and Chicken Tikka Massala tops the charts for the UK’s favourite food every year.
But that doesn’t mean that all Indian people make curry at home, and even if it did, he still imposed a blanket ban on people with a protected characteristic.
It’s illegal and it’s immoral. It’s not right.
Germans are renowned for their love of sausage, but you can’t ban all Germans because you don’t want the smell of Bratwurst stinking up the flat.
Single people tend to have more parties, but you can’t insist on married couples.
There are people in the world who believe wholeheartedly that the earth is flat, Stanley Kubrick faked the moon landings, and that JFK’s death was an elaborate suicide. You can’t ban them either.
Interestingly, age is not a protected characteristic. So you can kick those teenagers out right now.
And yes. If the neighbours do complain about offensive cooking smells or your curtains end up saturated in fat, you can evict your tenants regardless of what race, colour, or creed they are.