Accommodation, property, landlords and human rights

Can a landlord refuse to rent me a flat because of my age?
Can a real estate agent refuse to show me a rental property because I have children?
Can a motel owner refuse to let me and my same-sex partner stay?
Can a hotel refuse me accommodation because my guide dog accompanies me? 
Can a vendor refuse to sell me their house because of my race?
Can a landlord specify their ideal tenant?
Can a person advertising for a flatmate turn me down because I am a woman?
What about shared residential situations?

When a tenant is wanting to rent a property; when someone is wanting to purchase a house, or when a person is seeking guest accommodation in a commercial property such as a motel or hotel, it is against the law for that person to be treated less favourably than someone else because of any of the 13 prohibited grounds) of discrimination in the Human Rights Act.[i]

A property owner or their agent who discriminates against people because of their race, age, sex, sexual orientation, family status, disability (or one of the other prohibited grounds) risks breaking the law.[ii]

Previous negative experience with a tenant or a guest of a particular sex or race is not a valid reason to rule out future tenants or guests of the same sex or race.   If a group of single people did not pay their rent on time that does not mean that selecting married people will protect against it happening again.

Commercially operated accommodation, such as a hotel or motel cannot be denied to a gay couple yet made available to a heterosexual couple.

Motel accommodation cannot be provided on different conditions dependant on the ethnicity of the guest.   If accommodation is offered conditional on guests not cooking strong smelling food, that same condition will need to be imposed on all guests.

If a person has a disability which requires that they are accompanied by a service dog, their request for accommodation would need to reasonably accommodate that need.[iii]

It is important to avoid assumptions about the suitability of a property for, say, children and older people.   Applicants should be allowed to make their own decision on whether a steep drive or a busy road might be an issue rather than an agent ruling them out because of the makeup of their family or their age.  Neither can it be assumed that because a prospective tenant is not in fulltime employment, they won’t be able to pay the rent.

If an ‘ideal tenant’ is specified, the criteria should focus on personal qualities rather than stereotypes or any preconceived idea.[iv]   If you consider an ideal tenant’ as one who is responsible, reliable and can provide references, be explicit in stipulating these requirements.   For example, vague images such as ‘professional couple’ may run the risk of being discriminatory on the grounds of employment and marital status.   You should outline the actual qualities you would prefer, rather than make assumptions based on stereotypes.

What about shared residential accommodation – can a person advertise for a boarder or flatmate of a particular race or sex or sexual orientation?

Where a person wishes to share their own accommodation with someone else, the unlawful discrimination provisions do not apply.   The Human Rights Act provides an exception in relation to shared residential accommodation.[v]  This exception was designed to cover flatting or boarding arrangements, not commercial accommodation providers. However, the exception could apply to some commercial providers if there is some kind of communal living arrangement.

Can a landlord refuse to rent me a flat because I am a smoker or because my partner has a cat?

Yes:  it is only unlawful to refuse to rent a flat on one of the 13 prohibited grounds  listed in the Act.

Some accommodation does limit itself to certain groups – is this lawful?

Accommodation in a hostel or institution such as a hospital, club, school, university, religious institution or retirement village is an exception to the general prohibition against unlawful discrimination.  In these situations, accommodation may be made available for people of the same sex, marital status, or religious or ethical belief, or for those with a particular disability or in a particular age group. This is not breaking the law.

What if the accommodation does not suit a person because of their disability?

Where the accommodation poses a risk of harm to a person with a disability or their disability creates a risk for others, and the person providing  the accommodation is not able to reduce the risk to a normal level without unreasonable disruption, the provision does not apply. However, there is a presumption that if the person providing the accommodation could take steps to ensure the risk is reduced to a normal level, they will do so.

For further information relating to tenancy arrangements, contact the Department of Building and Housing at http://www.dbh.govt.nz/contact-us.

Earthquake accommodation: useful links

Canterbury Earthquake Temporary Accommodation Service (CETAS)

This service is for Canterbury householders who need help finding temporary accommodation following the September 2010 / February and June 2011 earthquakes. It will help them to work out what kind of temporary accommodation suits them best, and will match and place people in available accommodation. This includes accommodation in the private rental market or at one of the government’s temporary accommodation villages at Linwood Park, Kaiapoi or Rawhiti Domains. The Service also provides earthquake support coordination and financial assistance.

Householders who are displaced from their homes because these are uninhabitable or who need to move from their homes whilst repairs are undertaken are encouraged to contact CETAS on 0800 67 32 27.

[i]Human Rights Act 1993 No 82 (as at 01 July 2013), Public Act 21 Prohibited grounds of discrimination – New Zealand Legislation

[ii] Human Rights Act 1993 No 82 (as at 01 July 2013), Public Act 53 Land, housing, and other accommodation – New Zealand Legislation

[iii] Disability // New Zealand Human Rights Commission

[iv]  The Human Rights Act also makes it unlawful to advertise in a way that demonstrates an intention to discriminate on any of the prohibited grounds.  Human Rights Act 1993 No 82 (as at 01 July 2013), Public Act 67 Advertisements – New Zealand Legislation

[v] Human Rights Act 1993 No 82 (as at 01 July 2013), Public Act 54 Exception in relation to shared residential accommodation – New Zealand Legislation Prior case law states that a “common sense approach” needs to be applied and that the purpose to which a premises is put is key to whether it can be defined as residential accommodation or not.

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