This is what it feels like to be one of the people landlords don’t choose

This is what it feels like to be one of the people landlords don’t choose

Lexi Levens was turned down by landlords who didn’t want kids in their properties – despite having room (Picture: Lexi Levens)

They’re people who have children. They’re people on housing benefits. They’re people who own a pet.

They can afford the rent and they need a place to live. But the simple fact that they fall into one or more of these categories means their application is less likely to be chosen by many prospective landlords.

With demand for rental housing at an extraordinarily high level, landlords in certain parts of the country can expect to receive a vast number of applications once their properties go on the market – allowing them to pick the tenants they believe will cause the least hassle.

As a result, some of the most vulnerable people in society are the same people who struggle most to get accepted.

A survey of more than 1,000 landlords carried out by YouGov on behalf of housing charity Shelter found:

57% of private landlords said they have an outright bar or prefer not to let to households that have pets.

52% of private landlords said they have an outright bar or prefer not to let to housing benefit claimants.

27% of landlords said they have an outright bar or prefer not to let to families with children.

On Christmas Eve 2021, neonatal intensive care nurse Lexi Levens found herself unexpectedly searching for a new home after she was served with a Section 21 ‘no-fault’ eviction notice.

Thankfully, there appeared to be no shortage of properties on offer with enough room for her family in the area of Sussex where they were living. But after she started putting through bookings to view, the letting agencies made it clear her search may not be so easy.

‘They would just say they need to ask a few questions first,’ the 34-year-old recalled.

Source: YouGov poll of 4,023 private renting adults (18+) in England, conducted July 14 – August 16 2023 (Picture:

‘Then, when they’d ask how many people are in the property, and I said, “My husband, myself and four children,” they’d usually stop me and say the landlord isn’t accepting children at the property or the landlord only wants one or two children.

‘So then we weren’t able to find anywhere because of those barriers, which I had no idea existed until that moment.’

As the situation grew more desperate, she started having ‘really ridiculous conversations’ with letting agents: would someone with one child moving into a three-bedroom house have to sign a legally binding document saying they’ll never have more kids? If you get a flat on the premise that you have no children, do you need to promise you won’t get pregnant?

‘It completely consumed my life and drained my mental health. We felt worse than dirt on somebody’s shoe,’ Lexi said.

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‘We had doors slammed in our faces over and over again, purely on the basis that I had children who were living and existing in this world, who had done nothing to anybody.

‘Initially we were looking in the area where we were living, and I kept expanding that search – ten miles radius, twenty miles radius, thirty miles radius. It was so demoralising, and it consumed all parts of my day and night.’

Eventually, she was forced to do what she had previously considered unthinkable: she approached her local council and told them her family were about to become homeless.

She said: ‘There’s no reason I had to go to the council as homeless, other than the fact that landlords purely just didn’t feel like having kids in their house that they’re putting up for rent – a family house.

‘It puts so much extra pressure on the struggling services that we have.’

But after approaching the media, she was contacted by the owner of a run-down property who said her family could live there if they were willing to renovate it. That’s where she, her husband, and kids George, 8, Arthur, 6, Liliana, 4 and Wilbur, 2, are living now.

Lexi and her family now live in a renovated home in the Sussex countryside (Picture: Lexi Levens)

Under new legislation currently waiting to be put in front of the House of Commons, landlords would be prevented from discriminating against families in Lexi’s situation – as well as those on housing benefits – when it comes to deciding who is allowed to apply for a tenancy.

The Renters (Reform) Bill would also scrap Section 21, bringing an end to the no-fault eviction that began Lexi’s desperate search in the first place, and allow tenants to put in a request for a pet that can’t be unreasonable refused.

However, the bill cannot stop landlords from simply choosing another applicant when it comes to the final decision about who gets the home.

Anya Darr, a retired cat-owner who faced a similar struggle after being evicted from her Devon home, said: ‘At the end of the day, it may get you through that first gate in that the letting agency can’t discriminate against you if you’ve got a child, a pet or whatever, but the landlord still can.

‘Because every property down here, there’s literally 20 or 30 people going after it. So you can have the pick. How are you going to prove they didn’t pick you because you had a cat or you had a child? How can you prove that?’

Anya, 71, added: ‘They’re obviously going to pick who they think, from their point of view, is going to be the best tenant, which is usually double income no kids or pets.’

Source: YouGov poll of 4,023 private renting adults (18+) in England, conducted July 14 – August 16 2023 (Picture:

‘Too often, landlords shun tenants on benefits or with pets or children, making the already-difficult search for a place to live close to impossible for some,’ said Tom Darling, campaign manager for the Renters’ Reform Coalition.

He argued the new bill ‘must be strengthened to remove loopholes and ensure that landlords cannot discriminate against certain tenants’.

For Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, the solution is clear: improve tenants’ rights, and build enough social housing to stop the private renting system ‘creaking under the weight of demand’.

She said: ‘We’re pleased that the government has committed to banning ‘no DSS’ and ‘no child’ policies in its Renters (Reform) Bill, but the Bill must deliver genuine improvements to tenants’ rights, over and above the protections against discrimination already offered by the Equalities Act.

‘In the long term, the only way to ensure everyone can access a secure home is to fast-track the construction of 90,000 genuinely affordable social homes a year.’

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A spokesperson for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said: ‘Our landmark Renters (Reform) Bill will deliver a fairer private rented sector for both tenants and landlords.

‘It will make it illegal for landlords and agents to have blanket bans on renting to people who receive benefits or who have children, ensuring families aren’t discriminated against when looking for a home to rent and protecting the most vulnerable.

‘The Renters (Reform) Bill will also give tenants the legal right to request a pet that landlords cannot unreasonably refuse.’

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