Thousands of rental ads say no to children or pets – BBC News

  • By Alison Benjamin & Harriet Agerholm
  • BBC news


“It’s been very clear to me that having a teenage son is not ideal,” said Sara

Thousands of advertisements for rental homes put up by private landlords and rental agencies say children or pets are not welcome, BBC analysis shows.

There is no law explicitly stopping this, but lawmakers are considering more protections for renters in the UK.

Under existing equality laws, the blanket ban on children has been shown to indirectly discriminate against women.

A single mother of three told the BBC she was surprised that many of the homes she saw did not mention children.

“I think they think they’re going to have a wild party, or they’re falling apart, but my kids aren’t like that,” says Sara from Sussex.

Real estate agency Propertymark says the government limiting deposits in the UK is making landlords more aware of damages – especially with regard to pets.

The National Residential Landlords Association says it recognizes how important pets are to many tenants and that any bans on children reflect “the actions of a minority of unruly landlords”.

BBC News created software that collected private rental listings from property websites OpenRent and Zoopla over four days in May, then removed room advertisements in shared accommodation.

  • Nearly a quarter (24%) of OpenRent ads indicated a preference saying families were not allowed to rent a home – about 1,800 out of just under 8,000 in our sample
  • Over 300 Zoopla listings explicitly say children are unwanted, although this is less than 1% of what we saw
  • About 73% of sample OpenRent listings say renters with pets are not welcome, compared to 6% on Zoopla

OpenRent – an online agency – allows landlords to check a preference box to determine if children and pets are allowed, whereas Zoopla listings are posted by property agents and only occasionally mention the subject.

Housing charity Shelter said the full scale of the problem was unclear, as it was only after inquiring about the property that potential tenants were told they were not welcome.

‘My son needs security’

Single parent Sara, who has three children aged between 15 and 23, said it was shocking that so many properties she had seen near Lewes in East Sussex stated that no children were allowed, including teenagers.

The 53-year-old and his son Jake, 15, had been couch surfing – leaving him feeling “very unsettled”.

“It’s been very clear to me that having a teenage son is not ideal,” he said.

He said receiving housing benefits also made landlords and agents reluctant to let go.

The Scottish government said in a statement that reform of the private rental sector was needed and had been consulting on a new strategy including launching a housing regulator for the sector.

Nearly 200 agents – or 2% of the Zoopla ads we analyzed – explicitly say that children are not allowed in.

The Property Ombudsman, which helps resolve lease disputes, said in March that a blanket ban on renting to families violated its code of practice because it disproportionately affected women, who are more likely to live with their children.

“Under the Equalities Act it is against the law to prohibit renting to families because this is a type of indirect discrimination,” said Rose Arnall, a lawyer at Shelter, who is representing the tenants in the case.

A sweeping ban on renters with children in Wales and Scotland is also a possible violation of the Equality Act, Shelter said.

Caroline Brosnan, a senior attorney at Russell Cooke, said a landlord needs to consider whether not to allow children to stand in court.

While it makes sense to stop children living in bed-like accommodations in multi-occupant accommodations, justifying a ban in semi-detached homes would be much more difficult, he said.

Can you challenge the children’s ban?

UK renters can challenge rental agencies who say children are not allowed on private rental properties, Shelter said.

This is when an agent refuses to rent you a suitable and affordable property, simply because you have children.

Before a complaint is filed, you must demonstrate that you can afford the rent, and check that the property is of the appropriate size.

If the complaint is unsuccessful, you can take it to the Property Ombudsman or the Property Compensation Scheme.

A blanket ban on renters with children in Wales and Scotland is also likely a violation of the Equality Act, Shelter said, while in Northern Ireland there are various equality laws that may be relevant.

Those living in Northern Ireland who suspect they have been denied rent because of their dependents can file a complaint with the help of the charity Housing Rights.

About one in six rental agencies on the Zoopla listings we analyzed were advertising properties that explicitly disallowed tenants with pets.

Under the Tenants (Reform) Bill, currently being considered by Parliament, tenants will be granted the legal right to require pets to be kept in their homes, which landlords cannot unreasonably refuse.

Animal lover Sarah Plant said she never had any problems renting her two cats when she lived in France, but struggled in England.

image source, Sara’s plant


Smidge’s owner says owning a cat makes finding a home even more difficult

She said that when she told the agent about her cat, she said she “never hears back, it’s not instant”.

He eventually found a place, but it was a place that needed work.

Adam Hyslop, founder of OpenRent, told the BBC that allowing landlords to indicate their preferences helps tenants prioritize their searches.

“The decision on who to rent is entirely up to the owner. We also don’t prohibit tenants from asking about any property,” he said.

A Zoopla spokesperson said more than 95% of rental listings on Zoopla “do not refer to homes that are not suitable for pets or children”.

“We could find no clear evidence that agencies adopting a blanket ban when uploading rental listings to Zoopla would violate the guidelines.”

Any agent who registers at Zoopla must comply with its code of ethics and laws and the website recommends agents use “inclusive language and avoid marketing homes as they are not suitable for certain types of tenants”, he said.

Propertymark said the BBC’s findings demonstrated the importance of professional real estate agents as “blanket bans on advertising materials through rental agencies proved to be lesser when compared to advertisements by private landlords”.


BBC News created software to collect more than 120,000 rental listings from Zoopla and 11,000 from OpenRent advertised between 26-29 May. We then removed home stocks and homes marketed as retirement properties from both samples.

Our analysis of OpenRent ads relies on the site’s design, which uses checkboxes to welcome or exclude families and pets.

Adam Hyslop, founder of OpenRent, said the BBC’s approach of viewing static snapshots of listings was “unlikely to be accurate” because more popular property listings spend less time on the website.

OpenRent is an agent where listings can be cross-posted to Zoopla, so before analyzing Zoopla ads, we remove all cross-posted OpenRent posts. We then used a list of common terms such as “no pets” and “no children” to filter the list.

Additional reporting by Maryam Ahmed and Jo Mathys

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