Tenants: Our human rights stomped on

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10 Aug, 2017

In the last year prospective tenants have alleged they were denied a home because of a mental-health issue, because of their race and because they had an assistance dog – despite it being in breach of their human rights to do so.

Among the 118 allegations of discrimination made this year, tenants also alleged they were racially abused by neighbours or landlords, banned from bringing in male tenant replacements, and one claimed they were not allowed to wear religious clothes in a residential facility.

Tenancy Services received 29 applications relating to discrimination, in the year to June 2017.

Meanwhile the Human Rights Commission (HRC) received 89 complaints from tenants in the year to July 2017, equating to 6 per cent of the total 1392 discrimination allegations. Information the Herald obtained through the Official Information Act showed the majority of complaints, 20, were race-related, or disability related, 17.

The commission was unable to provide specifics of each situation, but gave brief examples of some of the cases it had seen, including one in which a tenant was racially abused by a neighbour in a holiday park; another in which a person was racially harassed by a property manager and another incident involving tenants being told not to wear their religious garments in a residential facility.

Prospective tenants also alleged they were unfairly barred from a home, one because of race, another because of having an assistance dog, and another because of mental health.

One of the allegations related to an advertisement that asked for “Asians only” and in another instance a prospective tenant felt they were charged more because the property was wheelchair accessible.

The rest of the allegations were related to issues of sexual harassment or discrimination (13 complaints), family status (11) and age (10).

While 11 were dropped, and six were unresolved, the remaining 70 were addressed either through an explanation of the Human Rights Act, an apology, assistance by the HRC or by compensation from the respondent.

The HRC said a property owner or agent who discriminates because of race, age, sex, sexual orientation, family status or disability risks breaking the law: “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.”

This was echoed by the Tenancy Tribunal, which also responds to allegations of discrimination against tenants.

At a hearing in February a landlord was found to have acted unreasonably when she stated rooms her current tenants wanted to sublease must go to females only.

“She is not willing to have all guys, after problems with a previous group,” the property manager texted.

The tribunal ruled the landlord be charged $2000 for unlawful discrimination.

Labour Housing spokesman Phil Twyford said the shortage of houses meant landlords had all the power and could be selective.

He said anecdotally it seemed many beneficiaries were refused accommodation after their employment status was revealed.

A Tenancy Services spokesperson said a landlord could ask about employment status but it was unlawful to discriminate on that basis.

“If a person thinks they have been discriminated against they can seek advice from both Tenancy Services and the Human Rights Commission and then decide the dispute resolution process that suits them.”

Tenants can lodge a complaint to the HRC, or make an application to the tenancy tribunal, but not both.