The Renters Reform Bill: How Can Agents Tackle Conscious And Unconscious Bias During Tenant Applications

September 1st, 2023 | 5 minute read

Business

Houses of parliament London

The Renter's (Reform) Bill was laid before Parliament on 17 May 2023, over four years after the government published its response to its consultation on reforming the private rental sector titled ‘A New Deal for Renting’.

The bill follows on from the white paper, published in June 2022, and seeks to introduce new reforms to the UK’s private rented sector by offering ‘quality, affordability, and fairness’ to renters. While the bill provides clarity on those proposals (including the abolition of ‘no fault’ evictions), various provisions could be scrapped, or indeed, further regulations added as the bill progresses through Parliament.

While this legislation is designed to make the private rental sector fairer for tenants, it will provide landlords and agents with key challenges, including staying compliant and offering fairness to all tenants.

Two professional people looking at each other Keys in a persons hand

Richard Murray, CEO of Veco comments: “Agents will be facing a host of new legal requirements under the new reforms, many of which can be overcome with streamlined processes, checks and up-to-date records.  This is certainly the case with ‘conscious’ and ‘unconscious’ bias in tenant applications. 

“For example, if 50 people want to apply for a property, agents will need to give each tenant ‘equal opportunity’ to apply for that property without any bias – conscious or otherwise. In practice, it will be very difficult for agents to give all applicants the exact same amount of time, energy and effort to process their application. 

“As this example highlights, most agents will struggle with compliance, unless they have some sort of self-service platform to help them manage tenant applications. The major advantage of self service is that it will give each applicant the same opportunity, via a URL that houses the application process.

“By implementing a technological interface for tenant applications, agents can work towards reducing conscious and unconscious biases in their tenant selection process and contribute to a more just and equitable housing environment.”

Carly Jermyn, CEO and Solicitor, Woodstock Legal Services commented: “Even without the incoming reforms, landlords and managing agents need to be able to demonstrate a fair tenant selection process to avoid claims of unlawful discrimination in respect of any of the protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010 such as,  age, gender reassignment, being married or being in a civil partnership, being pregnant or on maternity leave, disability, race including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.

“With the proposed reforms this will become even more important. If claims are made against landlords, it is much easier for us to be able to help them (and distinguish a claim) if we can demonstrate, with evidence, that they have a carefully considered a fair selection process that has been followed stringently.”

Here are some pointers on how agents can prepare themselves for the Rent Reforms in tenant applications: 

  1. Develop clear selection criteria: Establish objective and specific criteria for tenant applications, such as credit score, income-to-rent ratio, rental history, and references. Having transparent guidelines can help agents evaluate applicants fairly and avoid subjective judgments. 

  2. Standardise the application process: Use a standard application form for all potential tenants which will reduce the likelihood of making decisions based on non-relevant factors such as the tenant having pets, reputation of tenants, stereotyping of cultures, previous track records of tenants.

  3. Offer equal opportunities to view properties: Provide equal access to property viewings to all interested applicants. Avoid favouring certain applicants by offering exclusive viewings or privileged access. 

  4. Conduct fair advertising: Ensure your marketing and advertising efforts are inclusive and reach a diverse audience. Avoid language or images that could imply preferences for specific demographics.

  5. Blind application review: Consider using a blind application review process, where the agent doesn't see personal information, such as the applicant's name, gender, or race during the initial screening phase. This helps eliminate unconscious biases that may arise from such information.

  6. Educate staff and stakeholders: Ensure that all staff involved in the tenant selection process, including property managers and real estate agents, are aware of fair housing laws and receive training on identifying and avoiding bias. 

  7. Use technology and automation: Implement technology-based tools to facilitate the initial screening process, which can help reduce human biases in the early stages of tenant selection.

  8. Diversify the team: If possible, involve multiple individuals in the tenant selection process. Diverse perspectives can help identify and address potential biases.

1.       Document decision-making processes: Keep detailed records of the tenant selection process, including reasons for accepting or rejecting applicants. This documentation can be valuable in case any fair housing complaints arise.

2.       Monitor and review the process: Regularly evaluate your tenant selection process to identify any patterns of bias, or areas for improvement. Be open to feedback from applicants and make adjustments as needed.

3.       Partner with fair housing organisations: Collaborate with fair housing organisations or local agencies that promote fair housing practices. They can offer guidance and resources to ensure compliance with fair housing laws.

Trusted by over 2000 agency branches

#1 rated PropTech CRM on Kerfuffle.

4.9

Kerfuffle

5.0

Google