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.
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).