Fergus Wilson: a lesson in why buy-to-let landlords must abide by the law

 

Buy-to-let landlords take note: you must play by the rules to avoid getting your fingers burnt

Buy-to-let property magnate Fergus Wilson, who made headlines earlier this year for his controversial policy to ban Indian and Pakistani people from renting his properties, has now been told his policy is unlawful and “abhorrent” by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

Wilson’s views came to light after an email he’d sent to a local lettings agency was leaked, in which he asserted that he did not want “coloured people because of curry smell”.

Maidstone County Court issued an injunction against the policy, although Wilson, who historically owned around 1,000 homes across Kent, denied any wrongdoing.

“We had a problem with a tenant who had dogs, which fouled the carpet. I say no pets and no smoking, and no one gets upset about that. I tacked on to the email ‘no coloured people because of curry smells’. When you rent a property, no one is going to take it if it smells of curry.”

Discrimination

Judge Richard Polden, delivering the injunction, said Wilson’s views amounted to discrimination.

“I find the policy is unlawful,” Polden added. “Such a policy has no place in our society. I reject Mr Wilson’s case that this was a joke. This was not consistent with his pre-action correspondence with EHRC.”

After the verdict, Rebecca Hilsenrath, CEO of the EHRC, took to Twitter to express her views:

“Denial of a home on the grounds of race or colour is abhorrent conduct we do not accept in today’s society,” Hilsenrath added.

This isn’t the first time Wilson has been in the news for unfair treatment of his tenants. In December last year, Wilson sent a letter to another estate agent setting out his terms for tenants, which included “No tenants on housing benefits…no plumbers…no battered wives.”

The list caused a sensational media storm after it was leaked and Wilson’s reputation was irreversibly damaged – a long fall from his 2009 high point of being listed alongside his wife as the 34th richest couple in the UK by the Sunday Times Rich List.

Lessons for landlords

Landlords should take note and learn lessons from the ruling, perhaps starting with familiarising themselves with the government’s guidelines on discrimination. The list states it is unlawful to discriminate against anyone because of their race “including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin”.

The ruling also comes alongside recent news on changes to the Deregulation Act 2015, indicating a crackdown on the way landlords are obliged to treat their tenants.

The new rules, set to come into play in October 2018, state that any tenant who has an assured shorthold tenancy in the UK, is protected from being evicted on the grounds of making complaints about the state of their property. This means that if a landlord evicts someone on these grounds after the new laws come into place, they will be breaking the law and the tenants could successfully fight eviction.

Source: BBC/Sky News/The Independent/EHRC / The Guardian 

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