A judge has ordered a landlord to pay €1,000 to a potential tenant who was rejected after saying he was qualified for the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP).
In what is believed to have been the first case of its type to be decided by the Circuit Court, the landlord failed in an appeal against a finding made by the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), which also deals with non-work related equality complaints.
The president of the court, Judge Raymond Groarke, upheld the WRC finding against landlord Rosaleen Prendergast. However, he reduced by half the €2,000 in compensation the WRC ordered she should pay.
The judge said that while discrimination occurred, he did not believe it was intentional.
The WRC complaint was taken last year by prospective tenant Damien Keogh, who is currently living in a hostel.
After seeing a flat in Kilnamanagh, Tallaght, advertised on Daft.ie, he sent an email enquiring about its availability. The email said he had been passed for HAP, a social housing support for people with a long-term housing need.
Under equality legislation, a landlord cannot refuse to rent someone accommodation because they are getting a social welfare payment.
But Mr Keogh, who was represented in the case by legal advice charity Flac, told Dublin Circuit Civil Court he received an emailed response stating: “Sorry, we do not accept HAP at the minute.”
The court heard Ms Prendergast, a widow, had an extension on the side of her house and sought to rent out a small apartment in it for the first time last year. She did not dispute the contents of the email sent to Mr Keogh. But she told the court the email response, sent by her daughter Samantha, had been “a mistake”.
“We didn’t do this on purpose. We didn’t know about the HAP. We didn’t mean to insult the fellow,” she said.
Samantha Prendergast gave evidence that at the time she did not realise her mother did not need to be registered before she could offer the unit to someone on HAP.
She said she was inundated with emails in response to the advert and subsequently they decided to get an estate agent to handle queries.
Judge Groarke said it was the first time they had rented the property and there was “a quagmire of legislation”, which they were not familiar with.
“But unfortunately the law says that people are presumed to know the law and must act within the law whether they know what it is or not,” he said.
“I think that this was probably a human error, a human mistake on the part of the Prendergasts and they had no particular intention to treat anybody in a discriminatory fashion.
“I don’t think there was any mala fides on their part. I don’t think they are that kind of people. However, there was discrimination.”
While upholding the WRC finding, he halved the award to €1,000, saying the original award was “too high”.
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