Taking a broader look at discrimination
“Our constitution is not limited to discrimination on the grounds of race but on a far wider basis – so take care because as usual in our society everything being discussed is about race!”
Landlords discriminating against tenants because of their race is what dominates the news, yet there are also other forms of discrimination, equally prohibited by law; and then there are aspects like the number of pets or family size that property owners may be particular about. We asked industry leaders for their take on this sensitive issue.
In response to last week’s article ‘Racist seller: Refuse the mandate’, a managing principal Andre de Villiers, wrote that he thinks it is time the point was made more broadly.
“It is not only racist sellers, landlords etc. you may not accept discriminatory instructions and that includes ‘no gays’ or ‘no Muslims,’ for example. Our constitution is not limited to discrimination on the grounds of race but on a far wider basis – so take care because as usual in our society everything being discussed is about race!”
Indeed, incidents of racial discrimination do dominate the news, but, as quoted in full in the article, the Rental Housing Act, clearly states that a landlord may not reject an application based on race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, sexual orientation, ethic or social origin, colour, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language or birth.
The Code of Conduct for Estate Agents enforce the same prohibitions as the Act and is enforced by the Estate Agency Affairs Board (EAAB).
Thus a landlord may not even refuse a rental application because the applicant’s age as was the experience of Natalie Muller, sales and rental manager for Seeff Atlantic Seaboard in Cape Town. She recalls this elderly gentleman as the worst landlord she has had to deal with. He refused to have anyone younger than 50, stating that he was worried about them partying and making a noise.
“I advised him, that he would be protected by the municipal by-laws on noise and by having us manage the property, we would be able to manage the tenant for him. Ironically, he signed a lease with a 27 year old man, who, in the owner’s own words, was the best tenant ever,” says Muller.
She says the best advice an agent can give a landlord, is not to judge a book by its cover and to consider that when the agency finalise the vetting process, the owner will be in a position to make an informed decision. Through the vetting process, the person as well as their financial profile is investigated.
Financial ability to afford the rent for the property is one of the criteria that a landlord is within his/her rights to impose says Dexter Leite, rentals manager for Pam Golding Properties in the Western Cape.
Leite said,“As stated, Pam Golding Properties does not tolerate or condone any kind of discrimination in any shape or form. We fully support the Estate Agency Affairs Board in their efforts to eliminate any discrimination within the real estate sector. Similarly, we also fully endorse Rebosa’s (Real Estate Business Owners of South Africa) Equality Pledge of a zero tolerance approach to all forms of discrimination.
“Having said that, there are instances where a landlord is within his/her rights in imposing certain criteria in regard to potential tenants,” she says. These criteria include the following:
- Where the prospective tenant, based on his/her financial information supplied, is deemed to not be able to afford the premises, i.e. in regard to rental, services and any other expenses applicable. Therefore, lack of affordability would be a legitimate issue.
- Similarly, where the prospective tenant has a poor credit score and a string of judgements against them, or if the prospective tenant lacks contractual capacity, such as a minor.
- Where the tenant has large ‘inside’ dogs which the landlord does not want indoors, given wooden floors and other finishes which may be detrimentally impacted. Or the landlord may also be amenable to one pet but not three or four.
- Where there would be five adult occupants proposed for a one or two bedroom apartment, which would result in overcrowding.
- In the instance of someone wishing to run a business from a residential home eg a beauty parlour/salon, auto works/repairs.
So, in short, landlords may impose criteria that protect their property investment as long as it doesn’t contravene the Constitution.
As stated by Adrian Goslett, regional director and CEO of RE/MAX of Southern Africa, “It is the landlords’ right to choose whom they want to occupy their investment as long as they are keeping within the legal framework and constitution of South Africa.”
He says their agents are instructed to do business within the ambit of the EAAB Code of Conduct and they would never advocate compromising their core values while helping a client.
Muller said in conclusion, she thinks that if your client wants you to work outside the laws and ethics on discrimination, it is better not to take the listing or be involved.
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