Landlords are being reminded to carry out the relevant immigration status checks on their potential tenants, ahead of the second reading of the Immigration Bill in Parliament tomorrow.
Failure to conduct the necessary checks could see many buy-to-let investors facing a prison sentence.
Since December 1st 2014, the ‘right to rent’ check has been piloted in parts of the West Midlands. In August of this year, the Government announced that the new Immigration Bill would change further the rules on right to rent. Initially, breaches of the Bill were to see landlords face a civil penalty. This has now been altered to include criminal sanctions of up to five years behind bars.
Should the Bill pass its second reading, landlords will be charged with undertaking a more prominent role in the Government’s intentions of cutting down on illegal migrants.
However, a number of landlords and letting agents have raised concerns about the possibility of a prison sentence for property owners, many of whom could be unaware of the changes.
By shifting the responsibility of immigration checks from border guards onto often-inexperienced landlords, concerns are all mounting that some property owners will stay away from tenants who they feel could pose a risk. This in turn is highlighting the possibility of discrimination of some would-be tenants.
Andrew Turner, Director at Commercial Trust Ltd, feels that, ‘the Immigration Bill wrongly pushes front line immigration checks onto landlords.’ He said, ‘many landlords will be unaware of the Bill and their new responsibilities and could inadvertently end up facing a prison sentence which is both unfair and unreasonable.’
Immigration Bill to get second reading
‘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,’ Turner continued. ‘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’.
Concluding, Mr Tuner noted that, ‘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.’