‘I’m not racist, I just won’t let to them’. Fergus Wilson meets the Equality Act

Fergus Wilson (for it is he) has managed to cap such highlights of a landlording career as being convicted of assaulting his letting agent, and evicting tenants (including single mothers or ‘battered wives’) because they were on housing benefit or likely to result in property damage.  He now has an injunction against him banning him from operating a letting policy of (and I quote) “no coloureds”, thanks to a claim brought by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission.

Wilson had emailed his letting agent setting out a letting policy, which included

“No coloured people because of the curry smell at the end of the tenancy.”

After the EHRC threatened proceedings back in May, Wilson was unrepentant. And also legally illiterate.

“I personally find Indian and Pakistani people, and also coloured people in general to be extremely intelligent people. And I know quite a number.

“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.”

He said he has had no Indian or Pakistani tenants since 2012, and that his ban stems from a property he bought a few years ago. “After buying it I found it stunk of curry. I thought I could get rid of the smell but I couldn’t. I had to replace all the carpets and the wallpaper. It took a very long time.”

Wilson said he was confident he could defeat the EHRC in court. “When getting an injunction you have to apply for damages. And there aren’t any. They [the EHRC] are saying to me you have refused to take Indian and Pakistani people. I say where? Point to it. I think it is not reasonable to say that what I said was racist.”

In correspondence with the EHRC, he added, apparently intent on ensuring the case against him was watertight:

“I refuse to take tenants from a group of people that produce curry smells. I take just about anyone except Pakistanis and Indians.”

By the way, we know this is not true. The list of people Wilson won’t take also includes single mothers, ‘battered wives’, people on zero hour contracts, central Europeans with children, and, yet more bizarrely, plumbers.

And so it came to pass that the EHRC brought proceedings for an injunction, alleging direct discrimination on grounds of race contrary to section 13 Equality Act 2010.

Fergus Wilson defended himself. His illustrious history of acting in person includes his failed attempt to appeal his assault conviction. It appears he exceeded his previous efforts this time, in front of Maidstone County Court.

Wilson called the EHRC’s action “political correctness gone mad”. He told the court it was an “economic decision” to reject south Asian tenants and that he was not racist.

The landlord, whose personal wealth has been estimated at £200m-£250m, represented himself in court but was repeatedly admonished by the judge for bringing up issues that were not relevant to the case.

Wilson’s defence ranged from asserting that the email containing the ban on “coloureds” was just a joke and banter with a young letting agent, through to defending it on behalf of all landlords.

He also suggested that rent guarantee insurance – required by buy-to-let lenders – would not be offered to south Asians because claims rates were too high.

He told the court: “The reality is that with some of the rent insurers, if your name is Patel, you won’t get a rent guarantee as you are more likely to claim on it.”

Given that his policy was directly discriminatory whether or not he was personally racist (though, you know, the evidence is to say the least suggestive on that), it is perhaps unsurprising that the Judge found that the policy was, um, directly discriminatory.

“This policy clearly amounts to discrimination,” (the Judge) said. “I find the policy is unlawful. Such a policy has no place in our society.”

(The Judge) added that it was clear Wilson had indeed sent the email to his letting agent. “I reject Mr Wilson’s case that this was a joke. This has been raised for the first time (in court). This was not consistent with his pre-action correspondence with the EHRC.”

The upshot, a three year injunction banning Wilson from  applying criteria discriminating against “coloured” tenants or those of Indian or Pakistani backgrounds. And costs of £2,500 against him.

Fergus Wilson. 'Not a racist'

Fergus Wilson. Self proclaimed ‘not a racist’.

 

Congrats to the EHRC for bringing the case and counsel Bethan Harris, who must have had an interesting day at Maidstone.

Now if only freestanding discrimination cases weren’t so ridiculously hard for individuals to bring, we might see more letting agents and landlords face something similar.

Also, a point to lament that banning orders are not yet in force, and wonder whether a court finding of discrimination under Equality Act should also be a potential banning order offence under the forthcoming regulations. (Waves at the DCLG. We know some of you read the blog).

 

About Giles Peaker

Giles Peaker is a solicitor and partner in the Housing and Public Law team at Anthony Gold Solicitors in South London.
You can find him on Linkedin and on
Twitter. Known as NL round these parts, and still is Nearly Legal on Google +.

Posted in Assured Shorthold tenancy, Housing law - All, Private Tenancies and tagged , , .

15 Comments

  1. Seriously, does anyone know the story behind banning plumbers? The other groups I can at least see the objection to, be it racist or just not wanting anyone who might be ‘hassle’. But plumbers?

  2. I think it was because a plumber gave him bad advice or ripped him off once (upon a time). I am waiting for him to ban all legal professionals next because nobody advised him that what he was doing was wrong.

  3. Perhaps when you’ve cleaned a property after the place has been destroyed by tenants through stinking the place out with their cooking, or smoking, or pets or a myriad of other causes because they have lied to you in their tenancy application,especially when the deposit held falls very short of the costs of straightening the place out, you might have a slightly more practical outlook on this matter. But. as a pair of smug, middle class twats, you and this judge are never likely to have to resort to getting your soft hands dirty are you!!!!

    • I once lied to a landlord about my curry consumption. They didn’t get mad-rass about it though.

    • John, this isn’t about damage by tenants, whatever Fergus might like to pretend. It is about racial discrimination. If you decide whether a prospective tenant is going to cause property damage on the basis of their race alone, you are a racist and you are unlawfully discriminating. This is not hard to work out. I’m sure you don’t do that, John, do you?

      So, your little rant is completely beside the point…

  4. It is exactly the point, you are just choosing to ignore it. Anyway, how many once pristine properties have you straightened out after abysmal tenants have been evicted, or scarpered owing large amounts of unpaid rent…..none I’ll wager.

    • John, this is about refusing to let to people, based on their race. According to Wilson, it was a decision he made after he bought a property that smelled of curry. It wasn’t even about his own experience of tenants (and still wouldn’t be legal or justifiable then).

      So, are you saying that people of a particular race are more likely to cause property damage?

      You are going to have to clear that up, because it is the only thing that makes sense of your comments.

      And as you are a letting agent, I’d be frankly astonished if you actually straightened out the properties yourself…

  5. We are landlords, not letting agents, and I’ve straightened out more properties than you’ve had hot dinners. When was the last time you got your hands dirty, playing rugger at school I expect.

    • John, now I look properly, why so you (or your company) are.

      But I’m waiting for your answer. Are you saying that people of a particular race are more likely to cause property damage?

      Otherwise, your fervent objections here make no sense whatsoever. It is perfectly possible to have a legal letting policy that aims to avoid having tenants likely to commit property damage. I’d expect landlords to have one. And actually do the due diligence involved (or have agents do it, to make them liable for errors or misrepresentation in tenancy applications). No-one with a history of damage, no-one without previous landlord reference or guarantor, no-one with a CCJ against them from a previous landlord, and so on. These are perfectly legal. Trying to avoid property damage is a perfectly reasonable thing to do.

      What isn’t legal is for someone’s deluded little racist malignancy of a brain to invent a correlation between race and propensity to commit property damage. Because it is a) not true and b) completely discriminatory. Such sad, delusionary racists are one reason why there is the Equality Act (and its precursors).

      If you really can’t see the difference, John, you really shouldn’t be a landlord, or a director of one.

      And your assumptions about my background are amusing. Telling – exactly the kind of knee-jerk assumption that is at issue here – but very amusing. They are also bollocks.

      I have had a lot of hot dinners, by the way.

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  7. Brilliant response to Johns rant Giles but unfortunately it will require a modicum of common decency and some ability to understand a logical argument both of which John seems be be distinctly lacking.

    I recall dealing with Mr Fergus Wilson when I was in a position of power within the lettings industry some 15 years or so ago and regularly receiving emails from Fergus Wilson written in block capitals and orange coloured font, even then he had a decidedly personal interpretation of the law relating to letting and managing a property and would brook no argument. In the end I gave up trying to explain things to him because he just wouldn’t accept it evn when quoting legislation. Seems like Fergus and John are probably fruit from the same tree.

  8. I am a “coloured” landlord with 50 tenants, perhaps I should ban anyone with the name “John” just in case I should ever come across the Landlord above with that name. I am of Caribbean decent. I eat and cook curry amongst other foods. Most of my previous neighbours used to say how lovely my food smelt. I have very few people of Asian origin as tenants but I have never banned anyone. I have had tenants from all over the world. I have yet to favour any one race as I know there are good and bad in all races. When I have someone who I feel is likely to be a high risk I ask for a higher deposit and explain why. They will move on to another landlord, or as in most cases pay the higher deposit (they will get it back after all). As for tenants telling lies, they are no different to anyone, if they think you will not take them then they will lie. Its down to you to weed out those who’s lies will cloud your judgement of them as a prospective tenant.

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  10. John,

    I understand the National ‘Hot dinner’ of the UK is now officially curry…does that mean that of the majority of the 65 Million people in the UK are Indians or Pakistanis?…no, they currently represent 4.87% of the UK population [Indian 2.3%, Pakistani 1.86%, Bangladeshi 0.71%)…I have included Bangladeshi in there as ‘They are all the same arn’t they?’ ( in the eyes of racists!)…

    …kind of make your argument flawed/invalid then doesn’t it?!

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