Discrimination in Tenancies

The Tenants’ Union often receives phone-calls and tenants dropping-in who have been discriminated against. The single mother refused a house because she has children. The rental property that is advertised as unavailable to people of a particular ethnic group. The visually impaired person with a guide dog who is refused a rental property because they have a pet. All of these cases amount to discrimination and are contrary to Tasmania’s Anti-Discrimination Act 1988 (Tas).

Under the Anti-Discrimination Act 1988 it is unlawful to discriminate against someone in the provision of accommodation on the basis of a range of factors including

  • Race
  • Age
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Gender
  • Disability
  • Parental Status
  • Irrelevant Criminal Record

So, a landlord who states that they will not consider you for their rental property on the basis of your skin colour or because you have children will be in breach of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1988. It should also be noted that the Residential Tenancy Act 1997 (Tas) clearly provides that a guide dog is not a pet.

As the examples listed above demonstrate, discrimination occurs all the time, the difficulty is proving it with most Real Estate Agents and landlords informing you that they preferred some other applicant.

A suspicion that your landlord and/or Real Estate Agent have discriminated against you is unlikely to be successful. Your case will be strengthened by evidence. Did a third party overhear the offensive comment? Are there emails or text messages to support your assertions?

Discrimination on the basis of disability in Accommodation

One of the more common grounds of discrimination in accommodation is on the basis of disability, particularly in circumstances where the failure to modify premises will mean that the tenant may have to vacate their home. As the following case studies demonstrate, tenants do have strong grounds for requesting that modifications be made to their homes, particularly where the request for modifications is considered ‘reasonable’.

Peter Walters* a 65 year-old pensioner moved into a rental property seven years ago. Since then his health has gradually deteriorated and after a number of operations to his hip and legs he has great difficulty stepping into the bathtub in order to shower. An occupational therapist recommended to Peter’s landlord that they install a walk-in shower. Peter’s landlord refused, instead offering to re-locate him to alternative accommodation.

The Office of the Anti-Discrimination Commissioner found that there was indirect discrimination because the landlord was imposing a condition on the tenant that in order to enjoy the full amenity of their accommodation, including showering and bathing facilities, they be able to step into a bath. The condition disadvantaged Peter because of his impaired mobility, more than it disadvantaged tenants without such medical conditions.

A key question in such cases is whether the landlord is imposing a condition, requirement or practice, which is ‘unreasonable’ in the circumstances. The requirement, for example that the landlord have to install a lift for a wheelchair bound tenant who cannot access the second storey of a house may be found to be an unreasonable condition because of the cost and substantial renovations involved. In Peter’s case (above), he lived in a block of units all owned by the same landlord. Knocking on every door and talking to his neighbours Peter was able to demonstrate that walk-in showers had already been installed in a number of other units, weakening the landlord’s claim that the cost of installing a walk-in shower would be unreasonable. Without the need for a conciliation conference the landlord agreed to carry out the modifications.

In determining whether the modifications are ‘unreasonable’, all the circum­stances must be considered, including any benefit or detriment the modifications may cause, the costs involved in making the modifications and the financial cir­cumstances of the landlord.

In another case Alison Groves* had been living in her rental unit for twelve years. Over the past decade Alison had suffered from increasingly debilitating arthritis. The arthritis became so severe that she was unable to turn the taps in either her bathroom or kitchen on/off meaning that she could not cook or clean. Alison’s landlord refused to replace the faucets informing her that she could go down to the local hardware store and buy replacement faucets herself.

Again, the Office of the Anti-Discrimination Commissioner found that there was indirect discrimination because the landlord was imposing a rule or condition on the tenant that in order to live in their rental property, they had to be able to operate all fixtures and that if tenants required adjustments to fixtures in their property, they have to cover the cost of the adjustment. Again, the landlord agreed to replace the faucets prior to the conciliation conference.

Finally, in the case of Kane Ong* the tenant asked his landlord whether he could install at own cost a small reverse cycle air conditioner in his bedroom because of his medical condition. Kane suffered from multiple sclerosis, which meant that when the temperature was high he would suffer from relapses and fatigue and when the temperature was cold would suffer from pain. The landlord refused.

The Office of the Anti-Discrimination Commissioner found that there was indirect discrimination because the landlord was imposing a condition on the tenancy, being that tenants were not permitted to install (at their own cost) air conditioning equipment, where the condition disadvantages the tenant because of his disability. Prior to a conciliation conference the landlord let Kane know that he could install an air conditioner.

In all of these cases the Tenants’ Union acted for the tenant. If you believe that you are being or have been discriminated against, please do not hesitate to contact us and talk to one of our lawyers.

*All names have been changed.