‘Accidental landlord’ inadvertently disriminated against prospective tenant over HAP, WRC rules

Ausra Ziurinskaite’s complaint under the Equal Status Act 2000 against Adrienne Keogh was upheld by the Workplace Relations Commission

The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) has ruled an “accidental” landlord inadvertently discriminated against a mother-of-one when she refused to consider letting an apartment to her because she was receiving a housing assistance payment.

Ausra Ziurinskaite’s complaint under the Equal Status Act 2000 against Adrienne Keogh was upheld by the Workplace Relations Commission in a decision published on Thursday morning.

Ms Ziurinskaite told an equality hearing in February that she replied to an ad on Daft.ie to rent a home at Holywell Villas in Swords, Co Dublin in October 2020.

In her email, she wrote that she was looking for an apartment for her and her young son, and that she was in receipt of the housing assistance payment (HAP).


She offered references from her employer and then-landlord and offered to pay the deposit in cash or by bank transfer, the tribunal heard.

The reply from Ms Keogh came 45 minutes later stating: “Sorry, I am not part of the hap scheme [sic].”

Ms Ziurinskaite said she believed she might have been discriminated against and served Ms Keogh with the statutory complaint form ES1 at the address of the property offered for rent in November 2020.

On the form, submitted in evidence, she said she believed she was treated less favourably “because HAP will pay my rent”.

The complainant said she got no response to the ES1 form and that the letter was returned to her, opened, the following January.

The landlord, Ms Keogh, told the equality hearing she “did not know how the HAP process worked” and she thought HAP was a housing body with which she was required to register.

She “didn’t mean that she would not rent her apartment to someone who was eligible”, she said in her written submission – only that she “wasn’t registered”.

Ms Keogh said she was an “accidental landlord” and she had “struggled in the past trying to find somewhere to live”.

She bought the apartment as a place to live in rather than as an investment and it fell into negative equity when the property market collapsed – meaning she “couldn’t sell it”, she said.

The landlord was “trying to rent it quickly” when she put up the ad so she could pay the mortgage, and also had to support her elderly parents.

She added that her father had only just been discharged from hospital following a stroke and there had been “a whole load of disasters with the apartment”.

These included a prospective tenant who did not take the lease and a leak from the roof, she said.

“So many applicants mentioned HAP, I decided to find out about it,” she said, but added that when she inquired with Fingal County Council she was told it would take six weeks to process her registration.

Ms Keogh “couldn’t wait six weeks to get a new tenant”, she said.

Her belief when she wrote back to Ms Ziurinskaite was that HAP “was a path that she couldn’t go down”, she said.

Ms Keogh said she could empathise with the complainant as she was “also a mother” and she had brought up her children to respect people.

The landlord said she didn’t want the complainant to think she didn’t rent the apartment to her because she was in receipt of the housing payment.

The landlord apologised to the complainant at the hearing and said if the apartment became available she would let her know.

Adjudicating officer Catherine Byrne wrote that it should have been “apparent” to Ms Keogh that the complainant had money to cover the deposit.

“It would not have been difficult to check if she was, in fact, eligible for HAP and, as a landlord new to HAP, when the first month’s rent would be paid,” Ms Murphy added.

The adjudicating officer said she was satisfied the respondent “did not intend to discriminate” but as the property was let to a tenant not eligible for the payment, discrimination had occurred.

“It is apparent to me that Ms Keogh refused to rent a property to Ms Ziurinskaite because she did not familiarise herself with the process of renting to a HAP applicant,” she wrote.

Ms Murphy added that it was the intention of the legislation to protect HAP recipients and prevent such occurrences.

Noting that the maximum potential award was €15,000, she ordered Ms Keogh to pay the complainant €3,600 in compensation, a sum equivalent to three months’ HAP entitlement.