Disability discrimination – Get your property in on the Act

17th September 2013

The Equality Act 2010 did not simply harmonise the laws of discrimination on grounds of age, disability, race, religion and sex, it also included the obligation to make ‘reasonable’ adjustments to property in order to provide access for the disabled. Emma Wells, at Ansons Solicitors opens the door on what landlords and property owners need to know.

In addition to bringing together existing legislation on discrimination, the 2010 Equality Act also imposed a duty to make ‘reasonable’ adjustments to property, to make it accessible to those with disabilities. For landlords and property owners that means considering how effective changes would be, whether the change is possible and the size of the organisation making the change, its resources and the cost.

Where a disabled person is at a substantial disadvantage you may have to: 

  • change how things are done;
  • change a physical feature such as the access or exit to a building; or
  • provide an auxiliary aid. 

When it comes to changing a physical feature, the requirements apply to commercial. as well as residential property. This includes property that is leased or occupied by tenants – although the rules are slightly different for let properties.

When works needs to be carried out to a property that is leased, it may be necessary for the consent of a landlord to be obtained. If the lease does not specify that your consent is ‘not to be unreasonably withheld’ then the law applies a regime of consent if the adjustments are deemed reasonable. Equally, if a landlord refuses consent, they have to give reasons for the refusal and show that it was not unreasonable or, if they give consent, but attach a condition, the landlord would have to show that the condition is not unreasonable.

Listed buildings

When it comes to listed buildings, the Equality Act does not override other legislation – so you would still need listed buildings consent, together with planning permission or buildings regulations consent before any work was carried out. However the Department of Environment, Transport and Regions makes it clear that ‘It is important in principle that disabled people shall have a dignified easy access to and within historic buildings’ and ‘It should normally be possible to plan suitable access for disabled people without compromising the buildings’ special interest’.

Given the need to comply with this Act, a disability discrimination audit can inform property owners and occupiers about their duties and either ensure they are already compliant, or make recommendations that will enable them to be. It is also a wise move for property owners and occupiers to consider disability discrimination audits as part of the pre-contractual packs for prospective buyers or tenants, in order to be completely sure that any obligations included in the Act have been covered off.

For further information about property issues, please contact Emma Wells in the commercial property team, on 01543 431 193 or email Ansons Solicitors has offices in Cannock and Lichfield, Staffordshire.