9th November 2017
Tenant types and the smell of curry
In the Spring, international media featured the case of a UK landlord, Fergus Wilson, who had apparently instructed his agents not to let his property to “coloured” tenants because, he claimed, they would leave the property smelling of curry when they left. Last night I heard a report on Radio Four that a court had found against him, though today I have been unable to find any written reference to that alleged judgement.
Irrespective of the truth of a court’s judgement, this is not only an extraordinary case but a good example, hypothetical or otherwise, with which to examine how Diverse Diversity would operate in such a situation.
The first thing to note is that, unlike the current law, Diverse Diversity would not specifically protect prospective tenants on the basis of their membership of an arbitrarily identified “protected category”. Instead, it would look at the proposed treatment itself to assess whether it could be considered fair. The second observation would be that in this case the landlord, by distinguishing people for a ban by identifying a group not directly related to his concern, would not be acting in accordance with Diverse Diversity. Although there is likely to be a corelation between people’s ethnic background and their culture, and between their culture and their diet, this is not an essential or inevitable link. People may well live according to different cultural norms from their parents or earlier ancestors, and are free to choose a diet which suits them, so although there might be an association between people whose ancestors lived in a particular part of the world and certain dietary choices it would be wrong to confuse the two as if they were identical.
On the principles of Diverse Diversity, if a landlord wanted to stop his dwellings smelling of curry (or anything else) at the end of a tenancy, he should target the activity likely to cause the odour and choose his tenants based on his assessment of their likelihood to obey the rules, rather than their membership of a real or imagined group. Of course, that then raises a further issue of balancing the tenants’ quiet enjoyment of their home against the longer term effect on the property of any proposed activity. How much should a landlord be entititled to dictate the diet of those occupying the property? That is an area for debate and judgement, and many would probably feel cooking smells should be seen as an inevitable result of human occupation it would be unreasonable not to expect.
So, although Diverse Diversity would not protect the tenants on the basis of their membership of a “protected category” because it does not recognise such categories, it would protect them instead on the basis of fair and reasonable contract terms related to their activities and not who they happen to be.