Human rights body launches legal against landlord in 'curry smell' row

Property tycoon Fergus Wilson
Property tycoon Fergus Wilson

Legal action has begun against a buy-to-let tycoon who banned Indian and Pakistani tenants from renting his properties because he claimed they left homes smelling of curry.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said it has applied for an injunction at Central London County Court against landlord Fergus Wilson over his controversial lettings policy.

Mr Wilson's latest lettings criteria, seen by the Press Association and dated June 1, ban zero-hour workers, single parents, "battered wives", and mothers and fathers with children under 18 from renting his homes.

Most controversially, he provoked a public backlash by banning Indian and Pakistani people as tenants because he said he had had to pay out to rid his homes of curry smells.

The EHRC last month demanded a written assurance from Mr Wilson that he would not refuse to let a property based on race, colour, nationality or national origins.

Despite having to call in police following online abuse labelling him racist, he has refused to back down and insisted his motivation in enforcing the ban was to avoid financial risk.

EHRC chief executive Rebecca Hilsenrath 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. As this is now formal legal action we will release further information at a later date."

Mr Wilson, long regarded as Britain's biggest buy-to-let investor with hundreds of properties in Kent, said: "Like any business we are consistently fine-tuning to best advantage."

Defending his latest lettings criteria, he said: "I am merely taking economic steps to ensure that we do not end up with people who are unable to pay their rent."

He added: "Given that I have not had any Indian or Pakistani person apply for a house during the past five years, I am not sure what the EHRC seeks to achieve."

Mr Wilson said single parents, "battered wives" and zero-hours workers tended to be on low incomes and unable to meet the financial criteria to obtain a rent guarantee.

Although Indians and Pakistanis were not included on his latest banned list, Mr Wilson said he would still not house them due to previous experiences.

He insisted he is not racist, and that he has rented to "non-white" people, including Gurkhas. He said his stance is based on an economic judgment.

Mr Wilson said: "It is not the colour of their skin, but the smell of the curry."

He went on: "The issue is that a person is quite entitled not to purchase a house that smells of curry but to purchase the house next door which does not smell of curry. The EHRC appears to be saying that the purchaser then must let the house to someone who does cook curry."

Advocacy group Hope Not Hate has described Mr Wilson as "the unacceptable face of the housing crisis" and compared him to racist bigot Alf Garnett from BBC sitcom Till Death Us Do Part.