Some days it seems like being a professional landlord isn’t worth the trouble. There are new rules and regulations coming into existence every day, along with penalties, obligations, and very little in the way of incentives.
As far as the carrot and stick approach, successive governments appear to be almost entire unaware of the existence of root vegetables, and their interpretation of ‘stick’ often translates to ‘cudgel’.
We’ve already covered some of the myriad ways in which excessive regulation is making life a misery for the individuals trying to make a living in the private rental sector. And we’ve published a quick guide to the punishments you leave yourself open to by failing to adhere to the arbitrary and unjust regulation.
So it should come as no surprise to learn that courts are ‘reinterpreting’ existing legislation to make your life even more difficult.
A quick and entirely unscientific survey of houses to rent on gumtree indicates that most landlords won’t let to tenants receiving payments from the Department of Social Security.
The rationale is well known and entirely reasonable. DSS tenants drive up insurance premiums, are often unemployed, are subject to massive overpayment reclamations, may actually be forbidden by your mortgage company (check the fine print), and to top it all, you have to deal with the local authority – a messy and unpleasant chore at the best of times.
What’s even more unpleasant is that you may soon be compelled to take DSS tenants whether you want to or not.
It’s because of the UK’s entirely fair (up to this point) discrimination laws which prevent you from discriminating against potential tenants on grounds of protected characteristics such as religion, race, sex, or disability.
Women are more likely to be in receipt of DSS payments, therefore discrimination against DSS recipients is discrimination against women.
We can’t help but think that the logic is somewhat fatuous, but nonetheless Rosie Keogh of Birmingham won a sex discrimination ruling against letting agents on exactly these grounds.
Bear in mind that this is only a county judgment. It’s neither government policy nor DSS policy, but it is a legal precedent, which means that it can be used again and again.
At the very least, it will make letting agents uneasy at the prospect of letting properties on behalf of landlords who don’t accept DSS, which in turn will make your life considerably more difficult.
Ms Keogh was fairly advanced in the letting process before being told that her status as a DSS payment recipient disqualified her. But at what stage does the discrimination start? Is it when a female potential tenant so much as sees an advert which contains the words ‘No DSS’ or ‘Working Professionals only’ ?
At what stage can they sue?
And how can it be checked if a private landlord advertising through gumtree is committing sex discrimination by not letting to DSS tenants? Will there be a set quota required with audits by the local authority?
No-one was expecting this judgement. And no-one knows what’s going to happen next. But it has the potential to completely transform the private rental sector, and not in a good way.