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Why Can a Landlord Refuse to Rent to Someone in the UK?

Why Can a Landlord Refuse to Rent to Someone in the UK?

Landlords need to be cautious when selecting their tenants to ensure they protect themselves and their properties from potential issues. However, if landlords wish to refuse to rent to prospective tenants, they must ensure they do so legally. There are several circumstances in which refusing to rent to a tenant would constitute unlawful discrimination. In this guide, we explore the reasons landlords can and cannot refuse to rent to someone in the UK.

Choosing who you rent your property to can be the difference between a happy, uneventful tenancy and a nightmare of a landlord-tenant relationship.

Making informed decisions when choosing your tenants is crucial, not only for the success of your investment but also for ensuring that you comply with the law and uphold the tenant's rights. The line between a legally sound decision and an inadvertently discriminatory one can be finer than many realise, and the consequences for discrimination against prospective tenants can be serious.

In this guide, the expert landlord solicitors at Percy Hughes & Roberts explain the legal grounds upon which landlords can refuse to rent to someone, and the steps they must take to avoid any potential discrimination claims. If you have any questions we have not covered, our team is happy to answer your landlord query. You can contact us by completing the enquiry form below or by calling 0151 666 9090.

For What Reasons Can a Landlord Refuse to Rent to Someone in the UK?

Knowing the reasons you can lawfully refuse to rent to someone in the private rented sector is crucial. Here are some key reasons that are typically considered legitimate and legal for refusing to rent to a prospective tenant in the UK:

  1. The tenant does not have enough income: If a potential tenant does not have a stable income or their income is insufficient to cover the rent, this is a legitimate reason for refusal. Ensuring that a tenant can consistently meet rental payments is a fundamental concern for both commercial and private landlords.
  2. Poor references: References from previous landlords or employers that indicate potential issues, such as late payments, property damage, or disruptive behaviour, can be a reason to refuse some private tenancies.
  3. Credit check concerns: A poor credit history can indicate that a tenant is unreliable in meeting financial commitments. Landlords can consider this, although it is important to remember that credit history is not the only indicator of a tenant's ability to pay rent.
  4. Inconsistent or fraudulent information: If a tenant provides misleading or false information on their application, landlords have a valid reason to refuse tenancy. Honesty and transparency are key in establishing trust.
  5. Behavioural concerns: If during the application process, a tenant demonstrates behaviour that suggests they might not be a suitable occupant (e.g., aggressive or disrespectful behaviour), landlords may consider this as a factor.
  6. No ‘Right to Rent’: Under the Right to Rent legislation, landlords in England are required to check a tenant’s immigration status. If a tenant does not have the right to reside in the UK, the landlord has a legal obligation to refuse to rent to them. There can be severe legal penalties for failing to do so.
  7. Pets: If a property is not suitable for pets, or the landlord has a no-pet policy (except for service animals), this can be a reason for refusal.
  8. Previous convictions: Sometimes, a landlord's insurance policy may have specific limitations that affect tenant eligibility. For instance, some policies might not cover tenants with certain criminal convictions.
  9. Smoking: If a landlord has a no-smoking policy and a tenant smokes, this can be a basis for refusal, considering the potential damage and odour smoking can cause to a property. However, in most cases, landlords can include terms in a tenancy agreement forbidding private renters from smoking inside the property or its vicinity.
  10. Tenant won't verify income: If a tenant refuses or is unable to verify their income with acceptable documents, landlords can view this as a lack of transparency or inability to afford the rent, and refuse to rent.
  11. Tenant does not agree with terms: If a tenant disagrees with terms in the rental agreement, such as rent amount, lease duration, or specific clauses, and a compromise cannot be reached, this can be a reason for refusal.
  12. History of evictions: A documented history of evictions might indicate a pattern of problematic tenancy. Landlords can consider this history as a factor in their decision-making process.
  13. Lack of guarantor: For tenants who do not meet certain criteria, like students or those without a stable income, landlords might require a guarantor. Failure to provide a suitable guarantor can be a reason for refusal.
  14. Subletting concerns: If there is reason to believe the tenant plans to sublet the property against the terms of the lease, this can be a valid reason for a landlord to refuse to rent.
  15. Overcrowding concerns: If renting to the tenant would lead to overcrowding of the property, based on the standards set by the Housing Act, a landlord can lawfully refuse tenancy. This might apply if, for example, a family of six applied for a two-bedroom house.

There are many legitimate reasons that landlords refuse to rent to particular tenants, but there are also several illegitimate reasons. This includes refusing to rent to someone on the basis of a protected characteristic, such as their race, gender, age or sexual orientation, because refusing tenants for these reasons may be considered discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. It is vital for landlords to avoid unlawful discrimination, as there can be serious legal consequences for doing so.

When Might Refusing to Rent to Prospective Tenants Be Unlawful Discrimination?

In the UK, landlords must adhere to anti-discrimination legislation such as the Equality Act 2010. It is unlawful for landlords to discriminate against prospective private tenants based on certain “protected characteristics”. Here are those protected characteristics against which landlords cannot discriminate:

  • Age: Landlords cannot discriminate against someone because of their age.
  • Disability: This includes physical or mental impairments that have a substantial and long-term effect on a person's ability to carry out normal daily activities. Landlords may also be required to make reasonable adjustments or accommodations for disabled tenants.
  • Religion or Beliefs: This includes any religion, religious belief, or similar philosophical belief. Lack of religion or belief is also protected.
  • Gender/Gender Reassignment: Refusing a tenant based on their gender is illegal. This also covers a person who is transitioning or has transitioned from one gender to another.
  • Sex: Landlords cannot discriminate against someone based on their sex.
  • Sexual Orientation: A person's sexual orientation cannot be a factor in the decision to rent.
  • Race: This includes nationality, ethnic or national origin, and skin colour. Landlords cannot refuse to rent to someone because of their race or the race they are perceived to belong to.
  • Marriage and Civil Partnership: Landlords cannot refuse to rent to someone because they are married or in a civil partnership.

It is vital for landlords to make decisions based on relevant criteria like the tenant's ability to pay rent and suitability for the property, rather than any of these protected characteristics. Violating these anti-discrimination laws can result in legal action against the landlord, including claims for discrimination and potential damages.

What Is the Difference Between Direct and Indirect Discrimination?

In the context of renting to tenants, understanding the difference between direct and indirect discrimination is crucial for landlords to ensure they maintain compliance with the Equality Act 2010.

Direct Discrimination

Direct discrimination occurs when a landlord treats a prospective tenant less favourably than another tenant due to one of the protected characteristics listed above. These include race, gender, disability, religion, or sexual orientation.

For example, if a landlord refuses to rent to someone because they are from a particular ethnic background or because they have a disability, this is direct discrimination.

Direct discrimination is often intentional and overt, but it can also occur through unconscious biases.

Indirect Discrimination

Indirect discrimination happens when a landlord applies a policy, criterion, or practice that disproportionately disadvantages a group of people who share a protected characteristic. This may be considered discrimination even if the approach is applied in the same way for all tenants.

For instance, a “no pets” policy might indirectly discriminate against individuals with disabilities who use assistance animals. While the policy applies to everyone, it disproportionately affects those who rely on service animals.

Indirect discrimination is often unintentional and can arise from policies or practices that seem neutral on the surface but are discriminatory in their effect.

It is important to note that indirect discrimination can be lawful if the landlord can show that there is a “proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”. This means that the policy is in place for a good reason, and there is no other, fairer way to achieve the same result. If you are concerned about indirect or direct discrimination and whether or not your actions are lawful, consulting with a solicitor before you make a decision on tenancy applications can help.

Contact Percy Hughes & Roberts

At Percy Hughes & Roberts, we understand that making the decision on whom you rent your property to is one of the most important decisions you can make as a landlord. You need to ensure that the tenant is right for you and your investment, while also avoiding unlawful discrimination and the legal penalties that can accompany it.

Percy Hughes & Roberts can provide invaluable assistance to landlords in various ways, particularly in navigating the complexities of rental law in the UK. With our nuanced understanding of equality law, we can advise you on avoiding discrimination when choosing tenants, and ensure you meet all of your legal obligations as a landlord. Our team of legal experts can offer up-to-date advice on landlord-tenant law, ensuring that landlords understand their rights and responsibilities, including adherence to the Equality Act 2010 and other equality laws, and the "Right to Rent" checks.


For more information on our landlord services, do not hesitate to contact our expert solicitors today. Call us on 0151 666 9090, or send us your query by email by filling in our online contact form.

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