Earlier this week the Workplace Relations Commission, or WRC, found that property rental listings on Daft.ie breached the Equal Status Act on the grounds of family status, age and on the rent allowance ground. The adverts in question included the terms “rent allowance not accepted”, “suit family or professionals only” and “references required”.
The case was successfully brought to the WRC by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, or IHREC. The WRC ordered Daft.ie to block discriminatory adverts, furthermore, it directed daft.ie to “develop a methodology to identify, monitor and block discriminatory advertising on its website”. A list of terms and phrases has been provided by IHREC.
Daft Media Ltd argued that the IHREC claim refers to three specific adverts and that any finding made can only be made in respect of these adverts and cannot be extended to include all discriminatory grounds. The property portal also maintained that it is not a publisher but rather an Information Society Service Provider (per the EU e-Commerce directive) and therefore not responsible for the content that appears on its website, however, the WRC ruled that Daft Media Ltd has a “vicarious liability for advertisements placed on its website by third parties where these constitute a breach of the Equal Status Act”.
For residential letting agents in Ireland, any adverts currently uploaded to the portal that contain terms in the aforementioned list from the IHREC are apparently pending a manual review. As property listings can be edited after publication on the website, Daft.ie has stated that it now has a “notice and take down” policy. If a property listing is reported to contain any of the now-prohibited terms or phrases, an email will be sent to the estate/letting agent reiterating legal obligations under the Equal Status Acts. In the event that an agent updates the property listing to include any discriminatory phrase or term, the account will be suspended.
This is an important ruling for many reasons, estate and letting agents cannot ignore it. In practice, I robustly disagree that insisting on references from potential tenants (work/previous landlord? Needs clarifying) is contrary to human rights and it will likely pose many challenges for letting agents, who are engaged ostensibly to find the best possible tenants for their landlord clients. Further clarification on the practical implications of this ruling is needed.