2015 Immigration Bill Seeks to Automatically Criminalise Landlords
Landlords or their agents will automatically be committing a criminal offence if told by the Home Office that a tenant is living in the UK illegally. At least, that’s the extremely unfortunate situation to be faced if the 2015 Immigration Bill comes into force as currently written.
Here’s the situation at the moment: The 2014 Immigration Act introduced the right to rent regime to make it more difficult for illegal immigrants to rent accommodation. From February 2016, landlords (or their agents) of private accommodation will have to conduct checks to ensure new tenants have the right to rent in the UK. Failure to do so could result in a civil penalty – a fine of up to £3,000.
The 2015 Immigration Bill, however, seeks to take the failure penalty to a whole new level. If the obligation to check the right to rent is breached and a new tenant is found to be living in the UK illegally, the landlord will not only be liable for a fine, they’ll be automatically committing a crime.
The Shadow Home Office minister, Keir Starmer, commented that the scheme has flaws. He said: “…it includes provisions that put landlords in an impossible and unacceptable position because they become criminals on a date when they cannot do anything about that criminality… They have become a criminal; they simply have not been prosecuted and charged. I cannot see any reason or need for that.”
James Brokenshire, Immigration minister, said he would “reflect carefully” on these understandable concerns.
The concerns extend even further, though. In its current draft, the Immigration Bill requires landlords to give tenants 28 days’ notice to leave the property under the proposed eviction procedure. This would mean that once a landlord received notice that a tenant doesn’t have the right to rent, they would be committing a criminal offence but be unable to evict that tenant for 28 days.
MP for the Scottish National Party, Anne McLaughlin, highlighted the risk of this, and warned that the conflicting requirements may cause landlords to be faced with the question ‘which law will I break?’
Brokenshire’s response was that a specific amendment (Amendment 71) would offer a landlord a defence from possible prosecution where they have taken action to evict an illegal tenant within two months of receiving a notice from the Home Office that they don’t have a right to rent. This isn’t enough to settle the concerns though; he also flagged up the technical issue that this protection only applied when eviction action is taken under newly proposed routes and not existing ones.
The Residential Landlords Association’s (RLA) policy director, David Smith, flagged his worry that landlords would become risk-averse and discriminate against those who they believe are not British. The 2011 census was also raised in discussion, because it found that 16.5% of private tenants don’t actually have a passport. The RLA believed this could cause chaos.
Brokenshire disagreed with these views, stating: “Landlords conduct some checks; they might not be focused specifically on a tenant’s rights to be in the country or who they are renting their property to. Many use agents to conduct credit and other checks.
“There is a sense that landlords in the rented sector will be vigilant. The offence is only if they know or have reasonable cause to believe that someone in their rented property does not have the right to be in the country.”
He also recognised that they were setting a “relatively high bar”.
If you’re a landlord concerned about the additional burdens, LegalforLandlords can take that burden away. We’re launching a new service – Validate – for 1 February 2016, where we will verify VISAs, passports and identity documents for you, on top of our existing comprehensive tenant referencing. This will give you peace of mind that you’re complying with all your legal obligations – and won’t be criminalised automatically. Call us on 0333 577 9050 to find out more.