This briefing focuses on the Equality Act 2010 which affects all types of commercial and residential property in England, Wales and Scotland.

This briefing gives a short overview of how the Act affects property professionals and covers some of the new duties, including the obligation to make reasonable adjustments to common parts of residential premises and the extended general obligation to make reasonable adjustments where a disabled person is substantially disadvantaged.

What does the Equality Act 2010 mean for property professionals?

The Equality Act 2010 (the “Act”) came into force last October 2010 and covers a wide range of discrimination, including age, disability, gender, pregnancy, race, religion and sex. It affects all types of commercial and residential properties in England, Wales and Scotland.  

What does the Act do?

Anti-discrimination measures relating to property were previously contained in the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and the Equality Act 2006. These have been repealed and reinstated into the 2010 Act.

In a nutshell, the Act:-  

  • harmonises the core provisions of different types of discrimination law;  
  • extends the existing requirement to make reasonable adjustments to help disabled people if they would be placed at a disadvantage; and  
  • introduces a brand new duty to consent to alterations to common parts of residential properties where requested by a disabled occupier.  

How does the Act extend the requirement to make reasonable adjustments to help disabled people?

This duty will arise when a disabled tenant requests a reasonable adjustment to premises if they would be placed at a substantial disadvantage should the adjustment not be carried out. The duty attaches to landlords and property managers of all types of property, and sets out three further requirements.

  • the first duty is a requirement to change how things are done in order to avoid any substantial disadvantage to a disabled person (e.g. providing information in a more accessible format);
  • the second duty is to change physical features in order to avoid the substantial disadvantage (e.g. changing building access);
  • the third duty is to provide auxiliary aid in order avoid substantial disadvantage that a disabled person would experience without an auxiliary aid (e.g. installing a hearing loop).

The Act requires the landlord to actually make the alterations and prohibits charging the disabled person for reasonable adjustments that are required to comply with the duty. Failure to comply with the duty would be discrimination against the disabled person. The Act does not currently define “reasonable adjustment” and future regulations may well be required to do so.  

How does the new duty to consent to changes to residential common parts affect landlords?

This is a new duty that did not exist under previous legislation and only applies to common parts of residential or mixed use properties.

If a disabled tenant who uses or occupies premises as their main home requests physical changes to common parts to reduce any substantial disadvantage suffered, then the landlord (or person responsible for the common parts) must take whatever steps are reasonable to avoid the disadvantage.  

If changes to the common parts are considered reasonable then the landlord must first enter a written agreement with the disabled person setting out their respective obligations in relation to the works. It is reasonable for the landlord to insist that the disabled person agrees to pay for the works and the costs of reinstatement. The agreement must also cover who carries out the works and who covers and maintenance costs, which are all matters for negotiation.  

Are there any other duties imposed by the Act?

Duties that are of general interest to property owners are:

  • duty on landlords not to unreasonably refuse consent to alterations under the Act and to respond to requests for consent within 21 days;  
  • duties on landlords and property managers to change building management practices to assist disabled tenants;  
  • duty on property owners and managers not to discriminate against, victimise or harass disabled occupiers, particularly in relation to eviction;  
  • duty for service providers to make reasonable adjustments to premises to accommodate disabled customers.