Landlords will face £3,000 penalties for failing to monitor the immigration status of their tenants or lodgers, as part of “right to rent” requirements that will apply across England within months.
A trial of “right to rent”, introduced in the West Midlands in December, has resulted in one fine being issued to a landlord, who is appealing the near-£2,000 sum, according to sources.
Landlords and letting agents in the West Midlands – including Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Walsall and Dudley – must already check the nationality and visa status of their tenants. Penalties are issued per tenant who is living in a property who has no right to rent.
Critics fear the legislation, which is expected to be rolled out to the rest of England in September, places an “unfair burden” on landlords who may lack the knowledge or skills to check if their tenants are allowed to live in Britain.
Immigration checks could potentially flout anti‑discrimination laws, for example, because landlords and letting agents are not allowed to discriminate by nationality or race when choosing tenants.
Anne-Marie Balfour, from law firm Charles Russell Speechlys, said: “Landlords need to tread a fine line between immigration compliance and avoiding race discrimination.”
Tenants who are rejected unfairly can sue landlords under the 2010 Equality Act. “An award for ‘injury to feelings’, for example, would be in the region of £6,600,” Ms Balfour said.
She added: “This places yet more administrative burdens on landlords and could lead to criminal prosecution if landlords don’t identify an illegal tenant.”
Phil Stewardson, who owns 135 properties in the West Midlands, said that local landlords were being used as “free labour” for border control. “If trained immigration officers can’t detect these people at ports and airports with their resources, how are we supposed to? We’re effectively providing immigration with a free workforce.”
The Government confirmed the national roll-out during the Queen’s Speech in May alongside plans to “make it easier to evict illegal migrants”, for example by also forcing banks to close current accounts held by rogue residents.
Who has a right to rent?
Landlords will become front‑line staff in the Government’s bid to “deal with those who should not be here” and must check tenants have the correct visa or nationality to live in England.
A British, EEA or Swiss national, for example, automatically has a right to rent. But most non-EU citizens will need a visa.
To escape penalties, landlords need to obtain original documents, check that they are genuine and make a clear copy of each document, according to the official landlords’ code of practice.
If someone’s visa expires before the tenancy ends, the landlord is responsible for making sure that it is renewed. If a sitting tenant no longer has a right to rent, the landlord should notify the Home Office.
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