Can a Landlord Refuse to Rent to Someone Based on Their Nationality?

It is illegal for an owner or agent to discriminate against someone based on their disability, gender reassignment, pregnancy or motherhood, race, including ethnicity and nationality, gender, sexual orientation, religion or beliefs. No one should be discriminated against based on the type of rent entitlement check that is required. For example, a British or Irish citizen may choose not to use an IDSP for digital verification of their identity documents and instead demonstrate their right to rent using a physical document. According to the Race Relations Act, it is illegal for a landlord to discriminate against a tenant on racial grounds.

Racial motives are defined as race, color, nationality, or ethnic or national origin. When starting or renewing a lease, landlords or leasing agents will ask for immigration documents or passports to prove the right to live in the UK and rent. This is known as a “right to rent check”. If someone has the right to rent in the UK, landlords cannot refuse them based on race or nationality.

The law also states that landlords cannot refuse a request for a lease or treat tenants unfairly due to any disability they may have. This includes existing disabilities and those from which they have recovered. Article 6 of the Equality Act states that a person has a disability if they have “a physical or mental disability” and the disability has substantial and long-term adverse effects on personal ability to carry out normal daily activities. The Ministry of the Interior has published a code of practice and more guidelines on how to carry out verification of the right to rent.

When someone has limited-time rental rights, landlords must carry out checks within 28 days prior to the conclusion of the lease agreement. Landlords are free to refuse anyone for any reason as long as one of these characteristics is not respected. It is common to see advertisements for rental properties with the phrase “No DSS required” from the landlord. Private landlords may not check credit as often because it can take longer to rent a property.

However, landlords should try to keep the housing offer open so potential tenants can submit documents that prove their right to rent. If renting out a room, landlords need to prove the tenant's right to rent unless they say otherwise. Failure to comply with right to rent checks can result in fines up to £3,000 from the Secretary of State. If notified that someone has no right to rent, they are no longer protected from eviction under the Protection from Eviction Act 1977. Leasing agents and some landlords may check credit history to see if there have been problems paying bills in the past.

Landlords can still refuse someone if applying for housing subsidy. All landlords in England have a responsibility to prevent people without legal immigration status from accessing the private rental sector. If found guilty of these crimes, owners or agents may be sentenced with imprisonment (up to 12 months in case of summary conviction or up to five years if convicted on charges) or a fine, or both. Before renting a property, tenants will need to provide information and documents that prove they will be good renters.