Landlords should not discriminate against ethnic minorities when leasing a flat

2017-05

The EAA attaches great importance to enhancing the professional standard of estate agents and upholding the principle of equal opportunities in their practice. I therefore would like to remind both estate agents and landlords not to commit discriminatory acts when handling property transactions.

We sometimes hear that ethnic minorities, especially those of South Asian descent, encounter difficulties in finding accommodation in Hong Kong, due to suspected discrimination against them. In this regard, the EAA has issued relevant guidelines for estate agents to follow, reminding them not to engage in any discriminatory conduct. In fact, the issue may concern not only estate agents but also landlords, as the estate agency trade has expressed that any tenant regardless of their ethnic origin is their potential client and they have no intention of discriminating against their own clients. According to practice circular No.03-01(CR) the grounds of discrimination extend to one’s enjoyment of accommodation. Discrimination in this regard occurs if someone receives less favourable treatment in finding or enjoying accommodation than that which another person in the same position would have received on the grounds of nationality, race or skin colour. Discriminatory acts also include verbal insults (using pejorative racial descriptions) and refusal to provide services.

I am disappointed to learn from a report issued by the Equal Opportunities Commission (“EOC”) last year that ethnic minorities were discriminated against when looking for flats to rent through estate agents. According to the report, some ethnic minorities were told by estate agents that the landlord refused to lease the property to them. In this regard, the EAA has issued reminders to estate agents advising them that they will be personally liable if they violate the anti-discrimination ordinances. They may also be liable for aiding a landlord’s discriminatory act even if they act on the landlord’s instructions. Likewise, estate agency companies may be vicariously liable for its employees’ act of unlawful discrimination unless the agency can demonstrate that it has taken reasonable steps to prevent its employees from doing so.

Currently, ethnic minorities constitute about 5% of Hong Kong’s population. A collective effort of everyone in society is essential in creating a better and fairer environment for them. Landlords should be reminded not to commit any discriminatory act against ethnic minorities who are also members of our society. For more information on the Race Discrimination Ordinance, please visit the website of EOC at www.eoc.org.hk

Ruby Hon
Chief Executive Officer
Estate Agents Authority