Pregnant woman who says she was discriminated against by landlord awarded €3,000

Workplace Relations Commission hears tenancy agreement was rescinded after woman inquired about housing assistance

A pregnant woman who said that her landlord discriminated against her when she inquired about housing assistance payments has been awarded €3,000 by the Workplace Relations Commission.

The complainant, Amy Louise Finnegan, alleged that she had been discriminated against on the grounds of “accommodation” when the respondent, Moire Needham, rescinded a rental agreement once she became aware of Ms Finnegan’s intention to apply for housing assistance.

In her evidence at the hearing, Ms Finnegan said that she was pregnant in 2020 and was seeking larger accommodation. She said she answered an advertisement for Ms Needham’s premises and, through an estate agent, paid the first month’s rent and a security deposit in return for the keys.

Ms Finnegan said she then met the agent to sign a rental agreement and inquired about her possible entitlements to the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) scheme. Ms Finnegan said she understood this query was brought to the attention of the respondent and that the estate agent returned saying that if she wished to avail of the HAP scheme the agreed rent would be increased.

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Ms Finnegan said she did not agree and the rental agreement was rescinded. Ms Finnegan said that shortly afterwards she noticed the property advertised again at the original rate.

In cross-examination, Ms Finnegan accepted that the tenancy agreement was not completed and accepted that she briefly met the respondent near the premises, but disagreed that the premises was in any way untidy or otherwise poorly kept. The respondent claimed that the house being in “disarray” created concern and that this was the reason for the rescinding of the agreement with all monies returned.

The complainant’s representative, solicitor Ciara MacQuillan, said that Ms Finnegan was a desirable tenant until she made the HAP inquiry. At this point, what had been agreed in principle was rescinded, she said. Ms MacQuillan submitted that the fact the property was returned to the market at the rent agreed by Ms Finnegan evidenced that the respondent discriminated against the complainant regarding her application for HAP.

Ms Needham had “absolutely” denied that she had discriminated against the complainant and said she did not inform her estate agent to halt the tenancy agreement on the grounds of a potential HAP application.

In his decision, adjudicating officer Brian Nolan noted that neither the respondent nor the complainant had called on the estate agent to give evidence regarding the conversation had with the complainant.

“The only manner by which the respondent could challenge [Ms Finnegan’s] evidence is by calling the estate agent to deny the allegations. If the respondent wished to advance the defence that either the estate agent did not make the statements attributed to her or the made them without the knowledge or consent of the respondent, it is for them to call the relevant witness,” said Mr Nolan, who noted that the complainant had given direct evidence of the conversation.

“In such circumstances, I find that the complainant has established the primary facts from which the discrimination alleged may be inferred. As the respondent has not rebutted this inference of discrimination, I find that the complainant’s application succeeds,” said Mr Nolan.

Mr Nolan said that the conduct had a “detrimental effect” on the complainant and that “compensation for the effects of the prohibited conduct is the most appropriate form of redress”. He ordered the respondent to pay the complainant €3,000.