racist propertystory 2

London is often presumed to be one of the most culturally diverse and metropolitan cities in the world.

And yet this veneer of tolerance does not always stretch to black citizens in the UK who are searching for housing.

An undercover investigation carried out by the BBC revealed that letting agents in London are prepared to discriminate against would-be tenants on the grounds of race.

At least 10 firms told a reporter posing as a landlord that 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 that 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. This then resulted in the investigation.

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.

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.

Many of the letting agents told of how they would simply pretend that a property had been let, while another claimed he can always tell who was black by the sound of their voice.

For example, 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.

“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 available on the market – and a white researcher was offered a viewing. The A to Z agent told the black researcher that he would call him to arrange a viewing. Despite a second inquiry, the agent never got back in touch.

The agent laughed as he told of how he would not overtly turn down a person due to their skin colour, instead he’d make up an excuse or refuse to call them back.

A survey of 750 adults by the Runnymede Trust found that 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.”

The A to Z agent was later confronted over his practices. He told the BBC that it was “pointless taking on a property” if the landlord “doesn’t like” the client’s ethnicity.

He then contradicted himself by adding: “We don’t discriminate against anybody. We have plenty of Afro-Caribbean clients – I can show you our files. We’ve got nothing to hide.”

Despite the existence of legislation to combat racial inequality, the difficulty in proving such practices remains a problem. Under the Equality Act 2010, it is illegal for businesses to refuse to provide a service based on ethnicity.

But 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.

But rising house prices and a shortage of homes have led to a situation where many people are forced into a lifetime of renting, with rents rising every year.

In addition, the government is bringing out a new law under the Immigration Bill which will force landlords to check the immigration status of their residents.

Earlier this year, speaking at the House of Lords, the Queen said: “My government will bring forward a Bill that further reforms Britain’s immigration system. The Bill will ensure that this country attracts people who will contribute and deter those who will not.”

There are fears that this will help to deepen the racial divide and leave many black and asian people very few choices when it comes to rental properties.

It was reported that in Scotland, an asian woman won her claim against a Scottish estate agent called the Robb Agency when she sought and failed to view a property on their books.The Robb Agency was subsequently ordered to pay all of the costs involved in the year-long civil action – expected to be in excess of £100,000.

Mrs Yousaf, 39, told The Herald Scotland: ”I am very surprised at this decision, but much more than that, I am delighted. It has made our fight so very worthwhile.”

The agency refused to comment on the case which may now be the subject of a report to the Department of Fair Trading. Its actions also broke the code of conduct of the National Association of Estate Agents, of which the company is a member.


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