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Want to stay on the right side of the law? We support businesses and public authorities and help them to promote good practice.

Selling, letting or managing premises

What you need to know

When selling, letting or managing premises, it is unlawful to discriminate against individuals on the grounds of race, gender, sexual orientation, political opinion and religious belief and disability.  In certain circumstances you may also be under a duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled persons.

Who does the law apply to?

Public and private sector housing and accommodation service providers are covered. For example, these include:


  • Northern Ireland Housing Executive
  • housing associations
  • owners of hostels
  • private landlords
  • estate agents
  • property developers
  • managing agents
  • owner occupiers


The term ‘premises’ includes residential accommodation such as flats, houses, bungalows, mobile homes and caravan sites, and commercial premises. It also includes land of any description.


Disposal or managment of premises

Disposal of premises
It is unlawful for a person (or company) with power to dispose of any premises to discriminate against a person on the grounds above:


  • in the terms on which they offer to dispose of those premises
  • by refusing an application for those premises; or
  • in the treatment of those on a list requiring housing, such as overlooking or giving priority to people.


This includes selling or letting property.


Management of premises 
It is also unlawful for a person managing any premises to discriminate on one of the grounds above against a person occupying those premises, such as tenants, other occupier or someone who is associated with them:


  • in the way that they afford them access to any benefit or facilities
  • by refusing, or deliberately omitting, to afford them access to any benefits or
  • facilities; or
  • by evicting or subjecting them to any other detriment


This covers all aspects of a manager’s duties towards a tenant, or other occupier, or someone associated with them. A person includes a legal entity such as a company.


Examples of discrimination

  • A man who wishes to sell a house instructs the estate agent not to sell to the highest bidder, but to a person who is the same religion as himself. Should the estate agent decide to action this instruction, it would leave them open to a complaint of religious discrimination. The house owner may also be liable for directing another to do an unlawful act.
  • A housing association’s allocation policy gives priority for lettings to the sons and daughters of existing tenants. If the racial profile of tenants does not reflect the racial profile of people in need of housing in the association’s catchment area, the policy could disadvantage prospective tenants from underrepresented racial groups. This could amount to unlawful indirect race discrimination, unless it can be justified.
  • A property management company manages and controls a residential block of flats on behalf of the landlord-owner. The block has a basement swimming pool for use by tenants and their guests. A lesbian tenant is told that she can only use the swimming pool at restricted times, because other tenants feel uncomfortable in her presence. This is likely to be unlawful under the Sexual Orientation Regulations.
  • An estate agency issues documentation to its staff indicating which properties, for letting or sale, are considered to be 'unsuitable' for occupation by members of minority ethnic groups. This practice or policy discriminates against ethnic minorities.

Licence or consent

It is also unlawful for a person whose licence or consent is required for the disposal of any premises comprised in a tenancy to discriminate against a person on any of the statutory anti-discrimination grounds by withholding his/her licence or consent.




  • A tenant of a house occupies the premises under a tenancy agreement with a right to sub-let the house with the prior consent of the landlord-owner. The tenant is being posted to work abroad for a year and wishes to sub-let the house to a couple who are of a different religion to himself and the landlord. The owner of the house refuses to consent to the sub-letting. If the latter's reason for refusing consent is because of the religious beliefs of the couple who wish to sub-let the house, then that is likely to be unlawful religious discrimination contrary to the Fair Employment and Treatment (NI) Order 1998.

Making adjustments for disabled people

Landlords and managers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments in relation to premises they let to disabled tenants or prospective tenants who are disabled. This includes both commercial and residential premises and may include:


  • altering their policies, practices or procedures
  • providing auxiliary aids or services; or
  • changing the terms of a letting (but only in respect of premises that have already been let)

Exceptions for premises


The law does not apply if:

  • that person owns an estate or interest in the premises; and
  • wholly occupies the premises.


However, if the owner-occupier uses the services of an estate agent or publishes, or arranges to be published, an advertisement or notice, the exception does not apply.



  • A person giving or selling a house privately to someone they know, and not using the services of an estate agent or advertising the sale publicly, would not be covered by the legislation (excluding race/ethnic or national origin).

Small dwellings
The law does not apply to certain small dwellings*. This exception does not apply to race/ethnic or national origin, but does apply to colour and nationality. The exception applies to residential accommodation only and is in place to preserve an individual’s right to privacy in their own home.

A number of conditions must be satisfied before a small dwelling is exempted. The person with the power to dispose of the premises (or whose licence or consent is required for the disposal) referred to as the ‘relevant occupier’ (this includes a near relative) must:


  • reside on the premises
  • intend to continue to reside on the premises; and
  • be sharing accommodation on the premises with other people who are not
  • members of the relevant occupier’s household (such as bathroom or kitchen)
  • the shared accommodation must not be storage accommodation or a means of access
  • the premises must be ‘small premises’
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