Many housing associations in Australia and other parts of the world have had discrimination charges filed against them. Why, because of the violation of state-specific anti-discriminatory laws. A housing association or cooperative cannot refuse to rent to a tenant of particular religious faith or a specific race.
An individual is protected from unlawful discrimination under the terms of the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 in Victoria, and other discrimination act Australia wide. If an individual is subjected to unequal treatment due to their age, gender, race, sexual orientation, disability, marital status, religious beliefs, pregnancy or maternity, then claims against discrimination can be brought against them by individual tenants or potential tenants in the civil courts.
If the landlord or agent doesn’t want smokers, tenants with poor tenancy history or have an issue with rent payments; this is not against the law.
However, before I move on to what actions you can take for the discrimination, let me explain about discrimination types.
- Direct Discrimination
If a person is mistreated due to their race, sex, marital status, religious belief, sexual orientation or disability, this is known as direct discrimination. Also in case, the landlord refuses to rent out the home to you because you have children is also direct discrimination.
- Indirect Discrimination
If there is a policy, rule, practice or procedure that adversely affects the group of people, thisis known as indirect discrimination. For example, if housing associations have restrictive standards such as renting out to people with higher income, having a no pets policy. Other issues include placing unrealistic restrictions on the number of occupants permitted which, for instance, could exclude those who are pregnant and having a complicated and long application form which may dither recently arrived migrants from applying.
- Pregnancy and Maternity Discrimination
Pregnancy and maternity discrimination is when you tell the landlord you are pregnant and he/she gives you notice to leave the flat. If you have not done anything wrong under your tenancy period and paid the rent on time and the reason for the notice is pregnancy, it’s unlawful discrimination.
- Discrimination Arising from Disability
This is when you are treated unfairly because of something connected to your disability rather than the disability itself. This includes things such as the need for an assistance dog, behavioral issues, speech or movement difficulties, the need to use a wheelchair or other special equipment and difficulty using a computer. For instance, a landlord has no pets policy; this excludes the needs of disabled tenants with a dog.
- Adaptation to your Home
The landlord or the manager of the property must make reasonable adjustments to certain things when you are renting a property. They need to change the policy or way of doing things or provide information in an accessible format to people with disabilities. You can ask the landlord to remove, replace or provide furniture, furnishings, materials or equipment as long as they would not become permanent fixtures when installed, replace or provide signs or notices, replace faucets or door knobs, replace or adapt your doorbell or door entry system and change the color of any surface such as wall or door.
Harassment is a behavior which you find offensive or which makes you feel humiliated or which creates a degrading environment. Unwanted behavior can include spoken or written words or abuse from the landlord or the estate agent, offensive emails and inappropriate comments on social networking sites, physical gestures, facial expressions, and jokes. It also includes cutting off services such as water, gas, and electricity, visiting your home without warning especially at night and using threatening behavior or being physically violent.
Victimization is when someone mistreats you because you lodged a complaint about discrimination or helped someone who has been the victim of discrimination. For example, you helped your neighbor by being a witness in a race discrimination claim against your shared landlord, and due to this the landlord threatens to evict you, this could be criminal victimization, and you can take action under Equality Act 2010. Also, you have extra legal protection when you complain about discrimination.
These are some forms of discrimination you may have to face by the housing associations and what you should do about it, let’s get to know that.
What Should You Do in Case of Discrimination?
When deciding what action to take about discrimination, you need to think about what you are trying to achieve and also think about how quickly you need to get a result. You may want the discrimination against you to stop, an apology, want the landlord or estate agent to look at the decision they have taken, a change in the policy or money for financial losses or compensation. It is best to resolve the issue against a housing association by talking to them first if you feel comfortable. Sometimes people just need a reminder about their behavior or to be told when they have stepped over the line. It also stops the problem from getting worse and avoids the expenses of taking legal action. However, there are other steps you can take.
- Make a Complaint
You can make an informal complaint to the person or organization that has discriminated against you. If the problem doesn’t get resolved informally, you can make a formal complaint. Most of the organizations have their own complaints procedure, so you should follow it. After this, you can contact other organizations who can look at your complaint.
- Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)
This includes things like mediation, conciliation or arbitration. This is where people use an independent professional called a mediator, conciliator or arbitrator to help them find a solution to the problem.
If none of these helps you resolve the issue, then the best course is to take legal action.
- Legal Action
You can directly take legal action or after trying to address the problem in other ways first. You may be able to bring a claim in the state court for unlawful discrimination under the provision of Equality Act 2010, but please be aware that strict time limits apply to claims of this nature and you only have six months from the discriminatory act to bring a suit in the court. It is therefore imperative that you seek legal advice from unfair dismissal lawyers without delay. There are also limits that you should be aware of so taking professional help will make the process a lot easier.
It is best to make your complaint in writing as a written complaint will give you an opportunity to set out precisely what you want to say and make your point clear. In the complaint letter, you need to explain what you are complaining about, when the problem arose and what steps you took to sort it out and what steps you would like the housing association to take to resolve the problem.
However, there are certain things you need to keep in mind before taking legal action against the unlawful discrimination.
Check Whether Discrimination has Happened
The Equality Act 2010 law is there to help you in case you face discrimination. However, if you want to take action against the housing association for the bias, you need to be reasonably sure that discrimination has taken place according to the Act. The following steps will help you check whether unlawful discrimination has taken place or not.
- Why are you being mistreated?
If the unfair treatments against you or someone you know, or you are with is due to that they belong to a particular religious group, then it is unlawful discrimination.
- What’s the unfair treatment?
Only certain types of behavior or unfair treatment can be unlawful discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. An estate agent or a housing association cannot end your tenancy or refuse you to show a house on sale. You need to be sure that you are subjected to discrimination only then the Equality Act will help and to have a thorough understanding of this, you should take help of the professional property lawyers such as the P&B Property Lawyers as they will help you out.
There are specific legal claims you can make such as:
Public Sector Equality Duty Claim
The public sector equality duty is used to challenge policies by public authorities whom you think are discriminating against you. If you succeed, the system will be changed for everyone in the same situation as you. Public authorities have a duty about the need to eliminate unlawful discrimination, advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations between people from different groups. Here an example would help you better understand if you are under 65 and disabled, you wanted to rent a bungalow, and the local authority refused to provide it to you. The reason for the refusal is that the council has a policy of only providing homes to people who are aged 65 and above. In this scenario, you can challenge the council’s policy saying it’s a breach of their equality duty as they have not considered how this policy can affect disabled people who are under 65 years of age.
Human Rights Claim
Public authorities and housing associations must and need to follow the Human Rights Act meaning they need to respect human rights in everything they do. You can use this law to make your discrimination case stronger. If you think that the housing association has breached or not respected your human rights, you can say this in your discrimination complaint or court action.
What human rights are relevant?
- Housing should be affordable, people on low and moderate incomes should not have to pay more than 30% of their income on housing costs.
- Housing should be adequate meaning everyone should be entitled to a house that meets acceptable community standards of decency and his or her own needs.
- Housing should be secure. People should not live under threats of loss of home and shelter.
- Housing is accessible. People should be informed about available housing options and access to these should be free from discrimination. Most houses should be built according to Universal Design principles.
- Housing is in the right place that is it should be located close to services and support networks, job opportunities, transport networks and closer to social and leisure activities.
- Housing should meet people’s life cycle needs which mean that every individual has different housing needs at various stages of their lives and the house should be available to match these changing needs.
- If you find that any of these is not according to the law, then you can complain against them, or you can make a separate human rights claim or complaint.
Public Law Claim
If you are subjected to unfair treatment, but it’s not unlawful discrimination under the Equality Act, you may still be able to take action through public law. If a local authority or housing association has worked outside of these powers when making a decision which directly affects you, you can challenge the decision using public law principles. However, for this, you need to make an application for judicial review.
What is judicial review?
It is a special procedure you can take to challenge the decisions made by public authorities, and the application must be made in high court. Judicial Review is also used where there are no other ways of challenging a decision. There are time limits in this.
The time limits are stringent, and the application must be made as soon as possible, and in any case, within three months of the act, you are complaining about. There are also other rules to follow such as you can only make a judicial review application if you have sufficient interest in the decision you want to complain about and if you are thinking about taking court action, I recommend you get advice from an experienced property lawyer.
These are the things you need to look into when taking action against discrimination by a housing association and it is always best to seek advice from an experienced lawyer as well as try to resolve the issue informally.