Landlords has been warned that they may face a prison sentence if they don’t carry out immigration status checks on potential tenants, following the second reading of the Immigration Bill being discussed in parliament on Tuesday (13 October).
Commercial Trust has also said it may also open up landlords to possible claims of discrimination.
The push for private landlords to check the immigration status of prospective tenants pushes the responsibility of immigration checks from border guards onto unqualified landlords. If landlords then steer away from tenants who may appear to be at risk they could then face a backlash with claims of being discriminatory, the firm argued.
Since 1 December 2014, the ‘right to rent check’ was implemented and piloted in parts of West Midlands. In August 2015, the government announced that a new Immigration Bill would amend further the rules on right to rent. At first, breaches were proposed to make the landlord liable for only a civil penalty, rather than a criminal equivalent, but this has now been altered to include criminal sanctions of up to five years in prison.
“The Immigration Bill wrongly pushes front line immigration checks onto landlords,’ said Andrew Turner, director at Commercial Trust. “Many landlords will be unaware of the Bill and their new responsibilities andcould inadvertently end up facing a prison sentence which is both unfair and unreasonable. At the other end of the spectrum, landlords who become aware of the new Bill and become over cautious could instead open themselves up to challenges on the grounds of discrimination, leaving landlords between a rock and a hard place.
“While the code of practice for avoiding discrimination is welcome, landlords are not trained immigration officials and, in conducting right to rent checks, could find themselves in the precarious position of potentially committing one of two separate offences if they put a foot wrong. It is also incredibly difficult to disseminate information on new legislation to landlords.
“The Immigration Bill is just one of many recent and upcoming changes to the legislative environment in which landlords operate, and a concerted effort to advise landlords of their changing obligations and responsibilities is desperately needed in place of the piecemeal approach currently employed.
“Landlords are after all running businesses that are vital to the housing infrastructure of the UK. It is the government’s duty to ensure that landlords have all the knowledge and tools they need before any new laws take effect, and that they are not putting unreasonable burdens on the landlord community that may impact their ability to continue to provide housing for so many in the UK.”