Two recent court cases have made it clear that landlords who refuse to accept potential tenants solely because they are on benefits are, at best, on very shaky legal ground. In both cases, the judges ruled that refusing the applicants was indirect discrimination under the Equality Act 2010.
Landlords should take note of these judgements and also be aware that their obligations under the Equality Act 2010 extend to making reasonable adaptations for disabled tenants. Here are some hints on what this means in practice.
Reasonable tends to mean fixtures, fittings and furniture
As a rule of thumb, the quicker, simpler and more affordable it is to make a change, the more likely it is to be considered a reasonable adaptation and vice versa.
For example, changing a bathroom tap to make it easier for a disabled tenant to grasp would probably be considered a reasonable adaptation. Putting in an entirely new bathroom on the other hand is much less likely to be considered a reasonable adaptation.
Of course, these are extreme examples and there are still grey areas where landlords and tenants might disagree. For example, a tenant might see changing a bath for a (roll-in) shower as a reasonable adaptation whereas a landlord might disagree. Hopefully, these disagreements can be resolved amicably.
If, however, you want to think about how a court might view the matter then there are four key points you should consider.
- The cost of the adaptation
- The permanency of the adaptation
- The length of the tenancy
- The extent to which the adaptation would benefit your tenant
For example, in the case of changing a bath for a shower, it’s relatively low-cost and relatively easy to reverse. If the property only has one (accessible) bathroom, then it will make a significant difference to your tenant’s standard of living. The clincher, therefore, would probably be the length of the tenancy.
The business case for accessibility
So much for the legal stick, but there is a monetary carrot too. In 2018, The Equality and Human Rights Commission produced a report on Housing and Disabled People, which it subtitled “Britain’s Hidden Crisis”. According to this report, only 7% of homes in England have even “minimal accessibility features”. According to Scope, however, approximately 21% of the UK’s population is disabled. The figure is slightly lower in children and working-age adults (8% and 19% respectively) but much higher in people of pensionable age (44%).
Admittedly not all people with disabilities are going to need rental accommodation all of the time. The market is, however, clearly large enough to justify landlords keeping accessibility in mind whenever they buy or update a property. Here are five important points to consider.
- How does a tenant enter and exit the property?
- How do they get from one room/area to another?
- How easy is it to use doorknobs, handles and switches?
- Does the bathroom have enough space for a wheelchair to turn? Are there grab rails?
- How well does the kitchen “work triangle” function if you’re in a wheelchair?
Tara Neil are a specialists in beautiful British furniture and have a dedicated showroom in Reading, where you can find bespoke kitchens, bedrooms, home offices and more.