Extreme vetting in the rental market a recipe for disaster
Byline: Jahmaya Burke, associate at KaurMaxwell
News that renters are being subjected to extreme vetting procedures has caused alarm in the rental sector, with reports of landlords and letting agents having begun to demand personal statements, character references and photographs from prospective tenants. Campaigners argue that this has increased the potential for discrimination in the rental market, thanks to the intrusive nature of such requests and the opportunity to select tenants based on factors such as physical appearance alone.
The property sector is no stranger to action over discrimination towards tenants. In a recent high-profile case, a multi-millionaire landlord was ordered to drop his ban on renting his properties to Indian or Pakistani tenants, after the Equality and Human Rights Commission brought a case against him. The recent surge in extreme vetting procedures makes it easier for any landlord with similarly malign intent to select tenants based on their background.
While it is not uncommon for landlords and their estate agents to ask potential tenants to provide proof of funds, references and other additional financially relevant information, recent reports of extreme procedures raise serious questions over at what stage of the process does it start to become discriminatory.
The extreme vetting situation is further complicated by the fact that the wealth of personal information requested can lead to a GDPR minefield, with landlords and letting agents now being privy to vast amounts of renters’ data which should not have been retained beyond the application process, and which will likely not be handled in accordance with relevant regulation. This could lead to a host of concerns around privacy and data protection.
These extreme procedures are perhaps the inevitable result of the parlous state of the UK rental market – the worst in recent history – with figures revealing that the number of housing projects granted planning permission in England last year fell to its lowest level since 2006, when records began. With increasing economic pressures such as rising inflation, high interest rates and skyrocketing energy prices, it is unsurprising that landlords are keen to ensure they obtain the “best” tenants possible, since a bad tenant’s failure to pay their rent can result in the landlord’s property venture making a loss.
While landlords’ needs must be taken into account when it comes to the selection process for new tenants, the shift to extreme vetting must be stopped in order to reduce the potential for discrimination in the rental sector. Landlords need only be concerned about prospective renters’ financial ability to sustain their tenancy; probing checks into their personal lives and backgrounds are both superfluous to requirements as well as dangerously intrusive, and a data protection risk.
Should the extreme vetting trend not be reversed, it is highly likely that there will be a wave of discrimination claims arising from the practice as tenants seek compensation or take legal action as a result of these practices. The Equalities Act 2010 stipulates that refusing to rent out a property based on race is unlawful, and the courts have no qualms about taking strong punitive action when such behaviour does occur. Landlords who insist on requesting such highly sensitive personal information from ‘would-be’ tenants are treading on thin ice and should not be surprised if they find themselves on the receiving end of discrimination claims as a result.
Should a test case prove successful over the matter, the floodgates could well be opened for a wave of similar cases until the practice is halted and common-sense returns to the sector.