Black woman discovers she's paying twice as much rent as her white neighbour – for an identical property

Sanjana Varghese
Monday 20 July 2020 13:45
Celebrities
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A black woman in London was left shocked after realising that she was paying twice as much in rent than her white neighbour.

According to Huffington Post, who broke the story, Selma Nicholls realised what was happening after she had a conversation with her neighbour – even though Nicholls had been living in the same property for four years.

This property was a “live/work” unit in north London, in Tottenham – from a housing association, Sanctuary. These properties are supposed to be a way to accommodate people’s personal and professional lives – Nicholls is a CEO of a diverse talent agency.

Huffington Post report that Nicholls has been paying £1,000 more in rent every month than her neighbour – since August 2018. Previous to that, she was paying £500 a month more since August 2017. Overall, the difference was £30,000.

She said that her “first reaction was disbelief.”

As a Black single mother with an independent fledgling business in Tottenham, one of the poorest wards in [one of] the most deprived boroughs in the whole of the UK, it is staggering that I have been paying double the amount of rent for the identical property as my white counterpart.

Huffington Post also looked at Nicholls’ contract, which increased incrementally between 2016 and 2019. After the third year (2019), the rent remains at £2,000 a month, and will remain so until 2022.

However, Nicholls’ neighbour rent has remained frozen at £1,000 a month, after she made an application for a temporary rate freeze. Nicholls also applied for the same rent freeze and was denied – by the same worker as her neighbour.

Sanctuary confirmed to Huffington Post that the neighbour’s rent had not gone up or been reviewed. The neighbour was not named but was quoted by Huffington Post as saying:

We should all be looking out for each other to make sure people aren’t being driven out of their neighbourhoods, especially in view of the rapid gentrification of Tottenham.

The neighbour also said that they were worried their rent would now increase, particularly as the majority of their income has been put on hold by the Covid-19 pandemic, but they would help Nicholls to correct the situation.

Now, Nicholls has been struggling to make ends meet for herself and her child after her income has changed as a result of Covid-19 – and she was served with an eviction notice from the housing association.

Even in major cities – particularly those like London, where parts of the city are rapidly gentrifying – issues around racism in housing are rampant. Just 20 per cent of Black African people owned a home in the UK, compared to 68 per cent of white British people.

Sanctuary has since said that they are sad to hear that Nicholls believes the situation arose out of discrimination and that they will be working with her to resolve it. The company is quoted as saying:

Ms Nicholls and her neighbour have each been paying the correct rent in line with their individual lease agreements for their living/work properties, which were entered into at different points in time and were both set at a discounted rate to market rent.

We have looked into the case and we recognise we should have reviewed Ms Nicholls’ neighbour’s rental agreement and because we didn’t, they have continued to pay their initial discounted rate.

Given that both tenants are now out of the fixed period of their leases, we are in discussion with Ms Nicholls and her neighbour and are reviewing both rental agreements.

We want to be absolutely clear: discrimination has played no part in this matter. We are deeply saddened to think that we have made a resident feel this way and we will be speaking to Ms Nicholls about her experience to help us improve the way we communicate with our customers in the future.

However, Nicholls said that Sanctuary has not responded to her requests and that when she did raise the issue, a commercial property manager at Sanctuary Housing Association said that her request was ‘inappropriate.’

Nicholls has since appealed the eviction decision and has gotten in touch with her MP, David Lammy, about the ongoing issues, as well as the fact that she’s still been served an eviction notice.

“To be building a business from scratch and training myself as a spokesperson going around the world talking about equality... I now feel wounded. I went through a stage of feeling deep rage – from a place deep in my soul – to confusion and sadness,” says Nicholls.

I talk about that every day from this premises. I’ve built an organisation based on those values and to know that I’ve been subjected to this unfairness...it’s hard.

A spokesperson for Sanctuary told indy100:

The core values we strive to work to include diversity and integrity and we take allegations of discrimination or even of poor practice very seriously.

We have looked into this case and the leases for these two properties were granted at different points in time, and on different terms. In addition, because of an administrative error, we didn't increase the neighbour's rent when we should have done, thereby exacerbating the difference in the amount of rent charged.

While we have found no evidence to date that discrimination nor unconscious bias played a part in the letting or management of the leases, we want to be absolutely sure that this case was not, nor can even be perceived to be, discriminatory and ensure our stakeholders and, above all our customers, can have complete confidence in our practices, motives and values.

We are therefore investing in an independent, external case review to test for discrimination or unconscious bias, with the results being reported directly to our Group Chief Executive, as we recognise being anti-racist isn’t just about not discriminating, it’s about actively changing the status quo to create a more equal and inclusive society.

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