Couple denied home because they weren't 'Asian' or 'Chinese'

Author
Meghan Lawrence and Alice Peacock, NZ Herald,
Section
National,
Publish Date
Tuesday, 23 January 2018, 5:43AM
Discrimination occurs when a person is treated unfairly or less favourably than another person in the same or similar circumstances. (Stock \ Photo)
Discrimination occurs when a person is treated unfairly or less favourably than another person in the same or similar circumstances. (Stock \ Photo)

A couple have lodged a complaint with the Human Rights Commission after being denied a rental property based on race and marital status.

An Auckland couple aged in their thirties, who wish not to be named, thought they'd hit the jackpot when they came across a two-bedroom house in the east Auckland suburb of Highland Park last week.

A property manager ran two viewings and took the couple's application, as the owners themselves are based in China.

The female applicant said she thought they were in with a good shot of securing the home so she was shocked to receive a call from the agent on Friday saying their application had not been successful "because we weren't Asian or Chinese".

The applicants felt they had fallen victim to racial discrimination.

"I've made a complaint to the Human Rights Commission because I think we need to send a message, that this is not on.

"I treat everybody fairly. It doesn't matter what race you are, I take people at face value."

The couple hadn't had any direct contact with the family that owned the property, but the letting agent had tried to help out by recommending another property.

The owners were unable to be contacted by the Herald and when the property manager was contacted she had not been notified that a complaint had been laid.

She told the Herald she felt the couple had been treated fairly, and their application for the property had been denied for a number of reasons.

"There were two potential tenants who I thought would be really good tenants for this property," she said.

"One was a couple with children who come over and stay every second weekend.

"The landlords were a little concerned they weren't married, because if you rent a property out to a couple and they break up, then you have to find new tenants - which isn't very convenient.

"On top of that, the owners didn't want to have animals or pets at the house and this couple have a cat."

She said the competing tenants were offered the property because they didn't have pets, had a more stable living situation, and spoke the landlord's native tongue.

"The other potential tenants are a couple with a child, and also an adult boarder. The landlords felt that was a more secure set up than the other couple.

"The other tenants also happened to be Asian, and they felt if anything were to happen - like if a window was to break - they felt more comfortable because they can speak to them in their own language," she said.

"So the sole reason for the couple being denied tenancy was not because they weren't the right race, but there were a number of reasons."

The Human Rights Act states that it's illegal for a landlord to deny a tenancy to a person on the basis of gender, marital status, religious or ethical belief, race or colour, ethnic or national origin, disability, age, political opinion, employment status, family status and sexual orientation.

 

Auckland Property Investors' Association Vice President Peter Lewis advises landlords and property managers to avoid giving a reason when denying a tenancy. (Photo / Michael Craig)

Auckland Property Investors' Association vice president Peter Lewis said the case presented a "pretty open and shut case of illegal discrimination".

"In my view, the correct action for that agent to take would be to go back to the owners and point out that this is an illegal act in New Zealand.

"If they insisted on doing that, she should say she can't act for them on this property because they are asking her to commit an illegal act.

"It is like an employer asking you to go and burgle some bodies house. The fact that they have asked you to do it, does not make it legal."

Lewis, who has been a landlord for 26 years and has several rental properties in South Auckland, said he hadn't heard of many instances of discrimination quite as blatant as this example.

He said all landlords should base their decisions on factual information such as credit history and past landlord references.

He also recommended that landlords or property managers didn't give a reason when declining potential tenants.

"You are perfectly entitled not to give a reason, and we strongly advise you don't because if you give a reason then you are asking for an argument," he said.

"What I normally just say is that the application has been unsuccessful."

In this case, the property manager said her lack of inexperience in the role contributed to her divulging more information than necessary.

"[The landlords] had told me that in confidence and if anything is to blame, it is my inexperience, un-professionalism, and honesty," she said.

"I apologise my inexperience has led to this big misunderstanding.

"I had been fair in my representation of [the couple] and the other tenants, but [the landlords] felt the other tenants ticked more of their criteria."

Both Lewis and the property manager involved in this instance said they were not aware of racial rental discrimination happening on a wider basis in the Auckland area.

The definition of discrimination as instructed by the Human Rights Commission is that discrimination occurs when a person is treated unfairly or less favourably than another person in the same or similar circumstances.

In terms of renting a property, this can mean that someone refuses to rent to you. It can also mean that they're unnecessarily unfair during the rental process.

• If you think you have been discriminated against, head to the Human Rights Commissionwebsite for more information.

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