Landlord Bans 'Battered Wives' From Renting Properties

Illustration by Ly Ngo
No "battered wives" or single mothers allowed. It sounds like something that might have been plastered across rented accommodation in the 1960s or '70s, when "No dogs, no blacks, no Irish" signs were commonplace in the UK.

But, no – women really are being discriminated against because they have suffered domestic abuse. In 2017.

One of the country's biggest private landlords has banned "battered wives" and single mothers, as well as low-income earners, people on zero-hour contracts and plumbers from renting his properties, reported Kent Online, a move that some believe may breach the Equality Act.

Fergus Wilson, 69, and his wife Judith own a property empire in Ashford and Maidstone, Kent of around 1,000 homes, worth an estimated £250 million, making him one of the biggest buy-to-let investors in the country.

In his latest "letting criteria", which were distributed last month to letting agents acting on his behalf and quickly leaked online, Wilson writes that, "Like any business we are consistently fine tuning to best advantage", before going on to list the groups of tenants who are "not acceptable".

"The problem is this – the average rent for one of my properties is £1,000 per month and this makes the rent guarantee £30,000 a year, while the average income in Ashford is only £23,000," he told Kent Live. "So, if you're a single parent you're really up against it. They cannot afford one of my houses on their own. However, a couple of single people could afford a four bedroom detached house with money to spare."

Wilson said it was fair enough that he wanted to avoid the risk of "bully" ex-husbands or boyfriends from destroying his properties by kicking down front doors and causing damage inside the homes. He then had the audacity to say he "wasn't worried" about the backlash.

"It's terrible what happens to these women," he told Kent Live, talking about domestic abuse. "I hate it. But quite honestly it costs us a lot of money."

Wilson admitted that single people on lower incomes are disadvantaged in the current property market – but said they're not his problem. “It is just economics,” he told The Telegraph. “I live in the big bad world of reality, if I do not let properties and do not get the rent then I do not eat, I starve to death... it is the government's job to help poor people.”

This seems like a stretch, considering the reported £250 million worth of his properties, and the fact that he was included in 2016's Sunday Times rich list.

Funnily enough, Wilson actually pledged to take on "bullies who batter their girlfriends, wives or partners" during a failed campaign to become Kent's Police and Crime Commissioner last year and, unsurprisingly, some have argued that his latest actions fly in the face of that message.

Polly Neate, chief executive of Women’s Aid, said he has a "genuine opportunity to really help survivors in his area – but is not taking it". She told Refinery29: "Survivors of domestic abuse need support and understanding to rebuild their lives and gain long-term independence, and their housing can be a pivotal part of that. It could make the difference between recovery and safety, or living in uncertainty and fear.”

Arguably, Wilson's actions are also representative of wider problems that survivors of domestic abuse face when looking for safe housing in the current property market, particularly given huge cuts to social housing and refuges, which have left many with nowhere to go.

"We're disgusted by this news story, but sadly not surprised," Emily Fields, an activist from Sisters Uncut, told Refinery29. "Extortionate rents and deposits already make it close to impossible for survivors to find safe housing in the private sector.

"This story highlights how vital access to social housing is for survivors fleeing violence," she added, since 87% of women experiencing domestic violence will have to move home to find safety. "With refuges closing and social housing in short supply, survivors are being left at the mercy of private landlords like this one."

Survivors who may have left a violent relationship with nothing are unable to afford the "extortionate" cost of renting privately, she added. "Social housing should be a safety net, but councils are turning away survivors at an alarming rate." According to Sisters Uncut, Southwark council in London turns away 47% of survivors who seek support due to homelessness caused by domestic violence.

So, until the UK's private rental market is brought under control, it seems the poorest and most vulnerable members of society will continue to suffer, while millionaire landlords like Fergus Wilson treat it as their playground with impunity.
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