A DUBLIN-BASED estate agent has been ordered to pay out €3,000 to a single mother after being found to have discriminated against her single status in the renting of an apartment.
The move follows the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) ordering the unnamed licensed estate agent to pay the equivalent of two months rent to the woman after telling the woman that the landlord was looking for a couple for the property.
The woman claimed that she had been discriminated against under the Equal Status Act on the grounds of her being a single mother. No parties are named in the WRC report.
During last spring/summer, the single mother with her toddler were looking for somewhere new to live and told the WRC that this proved to be exceedingly difficult.
The woman spent many hours a day emailing letting agents and landlords regarding lettings.
On 17 April last, the mother saw a two-bedroom apartment for rent and emailed the letting agent to state:
“I’m a single mum with one toddler. I’m looking to rent using the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) scheme, which means rent is paid directly to landlord’s bank account from Dublin City Council. Could you let me know if this would be agreeable. Thank you.”
In reply, the estate agent stated:
“HAP is acceptable but the landlord is looking for a couple here I’m afraid, apologies on this. Kind regards.”
The woman felt on receipt of this email she took it that there was no point pursuing this apartment.
Outlining her evidence to the WRC, the report states:
“For her the message was clear; the landlord wanted couples only and she, as a single mother, had no chance of getting the apartment; the email was a ‘firm no’, a ‘flat refusal’ and in her opinion to say anything else is ‘ridiculous’. For her, this was a case of a one-parent family being refused access to housing.”
The woman did not believe the letting agent’s attitude related to affordability, and in fact she is now living in accommodation which has the same monthly rental as had been sought for the apartment in question.
The estate agent strongly denied discrimination and the company representative interviewed the author of the emails and said that there was no intention to discriminate.
The estate agent representative stated that they do not discriminate at all and that they rent to lots of different people. He stated that there are lots of other places where single parents are accommodated without any problems.
The representative pointed out that in more than 20 years of business they had never had a case taken against them on such grounds and that they simply do not discriminate.
The WRC said those words used by the letting agent that the landlord was looking for a couple “were sufficient to establish a prima facie case that prohibited conduct took place”.
The adjudication officer, Roger McGrath, stated:
“Whether conscious or unconscious, these words are stark, the addition of the word ‘apologies’, in my view, only serves to bring closure to the communication.
“The message is clear; couples are fine, single people are not wanted. It would seem the complainant was treated less favourably than a couple would have been in these circumstances.”
McGrath said that the woman had not established a prima facie case that she had been discriminated against on the grounds of being a single mother, but had established a discrimination case on the grounds of her civil status, being single.
On the WRC ruling, Focus Ireland spokesman Roughan Mac Namara said: ”In the current housing crisis it is crucial that all households regardless of their makeup are able to access the private rental market on a level playing field.
“We see that single parents can be particularly vulnerable so it is vital they are able to gain access to secure and affordable accommodation and no unfair barriers are put in the way.”
Chief executive of the Institute of Professional Auctioneers and Valuers (IPAV) Pat Davitt said yesterday that what the estate agent did was wrong and that the WRC was correct to find that the agent discriminated against the woman.
“The email that she received that the landlord only wanted couples was not a nice email to receive.”
Davitt said that the €3,000 is a high fine and double the previously reported fine where an estate agent was found to have discriminated against a person on rent allowance.
He said that estate agents must better familiarise themselves with the law and be mindful that any sanctions for discrimination come down on their heads and not the landlords.