London letting agents 'refuse black tenants'

  • Published
Media caption,

Peter Bolton King, Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors: "The sort of practices we have seen displayed in the programme are... absolutely disgraceful"

Letting agents in London are prepared to discriminate against would-be tenants on the grounds of race, a BBC undercover investigation has revealed.

Under the Equality Act 2010, it is illegal for businesses to refuse to provide a service based on ethnicity.

But 10 firms told a reporter posing as a landlord they would not let to African-Caribbean people at his request.

A black researcher was denied viewings, yet his white counterpart was welcomed.

BBC London was initially tipped off certain letting agents were willing to discriminate against African-Caribbean people on behalf of landlords, with the alleged misdoing rife in parts of west London.

To expose the practices, a plush three-bedroom flat in north Kensington was acquired. Letting agents from 10 firms were invited to assess its rental value.

'Sorry, it's gone'

All 10 were recorded on secret camera saying they would be prepared not to show the flat to African-Caribbean people - and many detailed how they had done it before.

The lettings manager at A to Z Property Services, in Dollis Hill, said: "We cannot be shown discriminating against a community. But obviously we've got our ways around that.

Image caption,
An A to Z estate agent said he would not call back unwanted tenants

"99% of my landlords don't want Afro-Caribbeans or any troublesome people."

The lettings manager at National Estate Agents, Willesden, said: "When someone [African-Caribbean] comes in, we won't advise them of this property.

"Even if it does get [asked about] we make up an excuse, to be honest with you."

When a black researcher asked to view the property, the National agent told him: "I'm sorry, that one's gone."

The property was still on the market - and a white researcher got offered a viewing.

The A to Z agent told the black researcher he would call him to arrange a viewing. Despite a second inquiry, the agent never got back in touch.

The agent had previously explained how he could deter unwanted tenants, saying: "We don't say no there and then. We just don't call them back (laughter)."

Once again, the white researcher received an appointment with no fuss.

Figures shared with the BBC suggest perception of discrimination remains widespread.

A survey of 750 adults by the Runnymede Trust found 29% of black people seeking private housing had experienced discrimination - compared to 1% of white respondents.

Rob Berkeley, director of Runnymede, said: "It's shocking that in 2013 outright racism is stopping people from finding a home.

"Many people think the days of landlords hanging 'No Blacks' signs outside properties are long gone - but discrimination clearly still exists."

Despite repeated approaches, National Estate Agents made no comment.

When confronted in his office, the A to Z Property Services agent said it was "pointless taking on a property" if the landlord "doesn't like" the client's ethnicity.

'Nothing to hide'

He continued: "We have plenty of Afro-Caribbean clients - I can show you our files.

"We've got nothing to hide. We don't discriminate against anybody."

The investigation comes 45 years after race relations laws banning discrimination in housing first came in.

After viewing the BBC's evidence, equality lawyer Arpita Dutt said: "These individuals know what they're doing and know what they're doing is wrong.

"Equally, they know how to get round it.

"There's no defence that 'I did it because somebody told me to' - it's absolutely unlawful and in this case there was clear discrimination."

Liberal Democrat Don Foster MP, who was the housing minister between 2012 and 2013, said: "I was horrified. Discrimination has no place in London, it has no place in the rest of the country. We've got firm legislation against it.

"What it will rely on is people who've been the victim of discrimination coming forward."

But BBC London has learned that, although 36 people told the Property Ombudsman they were the victim of racial discrimination in the past three years, not one single complaint was upheld.

Only two allegations resulted in a full investigation.

Mr Foster said existing enforcement was robust and the government was making membership of industry redress schemes mandatory for letting agents.

Housing Minister Kris Hopkins called the practices "totally unacceptable and illegal" and said anyone who felt they had been the victim of racism should come forward so the authorities could take action.

During its investigation the BBC spoke to letting agents who condemned the practices exposed.

Nicola Humphries, of Maida Vale Properties, said: "I'm appalled by the behaviour of some agents in the industry.

"There are some agents who will say anything and do anything to close a deal.

"We need to change the culture - but like any sales business it's a cut throat world and maintaining integrity is not easy."

Inside Out London is broadcast on BBC One at 19:30 BST and nationwide on the iPlayer for seven days thereafter

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