It is estimated that 85 percent of UK immigrants rent properties in the private sector. In light of the UK's housing crisis, the government is keen to reduce the number of illegal immigrants taking up private accommodation. As a result, the recently-implemented Immigration Act 2014 now requires certain landlords of residential properties to check the immigration status of their tenants to ensure they have leave to remain in the UK.
The scheme will initially apply on a pilot basis to residential tenancies entered into on or after 1 December 2014 in Birmingham, Walsall, Sandwell, Dudley and Wolverhampton. If the pilot scheme is successful, the new rules are likely to be implemented nationally.
Landlords who fail to carry out the necessary checks may be fined up to £3,000, although those who receive a penalty notice may object and have a right of appeal. Certain types of properties are exempt from the checks, such as hostels and refuges for the homeless and vulnerable.
Recognising that most private landlords are unlikely to be immigration experts, the Home Office is providing various support services to make the process as painless as possible. This includes information on its website, an explanatory code of practice for landlords (available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/right-to-rent-landlords-code-of-practice) and a telephone enquiry line at 0300 069 9799. As some tenants will not have their paperwork available for checking (e.g., if their documents have been submitted with a visa renewal application), the Home Office is also offering landlords an email vetting service. This service aims to respond within 48 hours with a confirmation of status which landlords can rely on.
Unsurprisingly, the new measures have been somewhat controversial. Opponents have criticised the Immigration Act for placing responsibility for prevention of illegal immigration on private individuals rather than trying to prevent it at source. The potentially high penalties for non-compliance mean some landlords may find the checking requirements daunting, particularly if the telephone and email advice services do not work as efficiently as planned.
The rules also apply in ways that may not be immediately obvious. For example, the scheme applies to householders taking in lodgers and subtenants, as well as to people living in the property who are not named on the tenancy agreement. Furthermore, landlords are required to report tenants whose visas expire during the course of the tenancy. This could be administratively burdensome for landlords with multiple properties and tenants. The new rules may therefore result in more properties being rented through letting agencies.
The legislation has also been widely criticised (by both housing and immigration groups) for potentially increasing the chance of discrimination against non-EEA nationals. There is a risk that private landlords who do not wish to use letting agencies may decide not to rent properties to non-EEA nationals in order to avoid carrying out the checks. This would make it increasingly difficult for non-EEA nationals to find rental properties -- bad news in an already highly competitive market.
Douglas Badder, Associate at Faegre Baker Daniels supported me with this blog.