London estate agents face investigation for racial discrimination

A pair of glasses on a pile of paperwork

London estate agents may be the subject of an investigation by the Equality and Human Rights Commission after an undercover report showed evidence of 10 agencies violating tenant’s rights by discriminating against African and Caribbean tenants.

The investigation, conducted by the BBC’s Inside Out, aired on Monday 14 October. An undercover reporter posing as a landlord told agents that he did not want to rent his property to black people and asked if they would be able and willing to discriminate against such tenants. More undercover researchers then went to the same agencies, posing as tenants hoping to secure a viewing.

Shockingly, 10 estate agents were shown to be willing to discriminate – informing the fake landlord that, whilst they could not openly do so, they had “ways around” the law. Tricks included informing African or Caribbean tenants that they would be in touch and then never call, or telling them that the property had already been let.

In one follow-up a fake tenant who was white was granted a viewing, whilst a black researcher was told that the property was no longer available.

One agent, caught on hidden camera, assured the reporter:

…we cannot be shown discriminating against a community. But obviously we’ve got our ways around that… like yourself, 99% of my landlords don’t want Afro-Caribbeans or any troublesome people.

A spokesperson for the EHRC said that their lawyers would look into the evidence gathered by the BBC reporters. Should they determine the need for action, it will be the third major investigation into racism in the property and rental market in three years. Neither of the first two, launched by the Property Ombudsman, were upheld.

Discrimination and tenant’s rights

Whilst landlords are allowed to select their tenants based on suitability, discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, gender, sexuality or disability is a breach of tenant’s rights and against the law. Whilst this report suggests that some landlords ‘hide behind’ their letting agents, a major investigation could uncover this practice and leave landlords who discriminate open to prosecution. Read more about avoiding discrimination in property management.

This information should not be interpreted as financial advice. Mortgage and loan rates are subject to change.