A millionaire buy-to-let landlord who banned “battered wives”, single mothers and people of colour from renting his homes has got his comeuppance, as the country’s equality watchdog has begun formal legal action against him.
Fergus Wilson, who owns a £250 million property empire of around 1,000 homes in Kent, is one of the UK’s biggest buy-to-let investors and in March it emerged that he had sent an email to his letting agency banning “coloured” people from renting his homes “because of the curry smell”, a policy he defended on economic grounds.
"Battered wives" aka survivors of domestic violence, single mothers, low-income earners, people on zero-hour contracts and plumbers are also banned from renting his properties, according to his letting criteria, which came to public attention earlier in the year.
Thankfully, Wilson is now being taken to task for his jaw-dropping behaviour. After an investigation, the equality watchdog, The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), has applied for an injunction against him, the BBC reported.
If the Central London County Court grants the injunction and Wilson complies, nothing more would happen, but if he breaches it and continues to discriminate against the aforementioned groups, it could be contempt of court and result in a fine, the EHRC said.
"We have asked the court if it agrees with us that Mr Wilson's lettings policy contains unlawful criteria and, if so, to issue an injunction," said the EHRC’s chief executive, Rebecca Hilsenrath.
However, Wilson remains unrepentant, saying he stands by his ban on Indian and Pakistani tenants and will fight the injunction. This is despite him having to call in the police after receiving abuse online. "I personally find Indian and Pakistani people, and also coloured people in general to be extremely intelligent people. And I know quite a number," he told the Guardian.
“We had a problem with a tenant who had dogs, which fouled the carpet. I say no pets and no smoking, and no one gets upset about that. I tacked on to the email ‘no coloured people because of curry smells’. When you rent a property, no one is going to take it if it smells of curry,” Wilson added, which he claimed wasn't racist.
The EHRC, however, said the criterion of “no coloured people” was direct discrimination on the grounds of race and a breach of section 13 of the Equality Act 2010.
Wilson claims his motivation was avoiding financial risk, telling the BBC: "Like any business we are consistently fine-tuning to best advantage." Let's hope the severity of legal proceedings makes him take a long, hard look at himself and reassess his views.