Discrimination happens when someone is treated unfairly or less favourably than another person in the same or similar circumstances.
Discrimination and the Residential Tenancies Act
Discrimination is unlawful under the Residential Tenancies Act when it is in contravention of the Human Rights Act.
What the Human Rights Act says
Discrimination is unlawful when the reason for discrimination is one prohibited by the Human Rights Act.
For example, it’s illegal for a landlord to deny a tenancy to a person because they belong to a certain church, or to change an existing lease after it has been signed because the landlord discovers the tenant is unemployed.
When providing accommodation, it is unlawful to discriminate on the basis of:
- marital status
- religious or ethical belief
- race or colour
- ethnic or national origin – which includes nationality and citizenship
- disability – including physical or psychiatric illness
- political opinion
- employment status – eg being unemployed or a beneficiary, or receiving ACC payments
- family status – including having/not having responsibility for children
- sexual orientation.
What the Residential Tenancies Act says
This Act makes it unlawful for anyone to discriminate when considering whether to grant a tenancy or deciding to continue, extend or vary an existing tenancy. The Act prohibits discrimination when deciding to terminate or renew a tenancy.
A person cannot tell someone else to discriminate in any of these situations either. For instance, a landlord would be acting unlawfully if they instructed an agent not to rent to a single parent.
Discrimination – what to do
A tenant who thinks they have been illegally discriminated against can either make a complaint to the Human Rights Commission or make an application to the Tenancy Tribunal.
However, a tenant cannot do both. If you think you have been discriminated against, seek advice from both Tenancy Services and the Human Rights Commission. Once you have made a choice you cannot apply to the other organisation, even if you change your mind or don’t like the outcome.
Landlords should seek advice from either organisation if they want to be sure their tenancy decisions are lawful.
Contact Us if you would like specific advice or have a question
The Human Rights Commission website (external link) has more information on property and discrimination.