Last year the Immigration Act 2014 became law. Part of the legislation requires the owners of residential property to regularly check the immigration status of prospective tenants of the property, along with other occupiers. A failure to abide by this legislative requirement may result in a fine of up to £3,000.
Under the legislation, a person may not occupy property pursuant to a residential tenancy agreement if they (i) are not a British citizen, (ii) are not a national of an EEA State, (iii) are not a national of Switzerland or (iv) do not have any right to rent in respect of the property. Further, a tenant has no right to rent a residential property if they require leave to remain in the UK and do not have such leave.
All of this requires a landlord to check an existing tenant or a prospective tenant’s immigration paperwork/ documentation in order to assess whether he or she has the right to rent the property. Where there is uncertainty about whether there is such a right, a landlord will be able to make web or telephone queries. The relevant government department has said that they expect a turnaround time of 48 hours for emails sent to them.
A landlord will have to review a tenant or prospective tenant’s documentation to determine whether they have a right to rent. Where it is not clear whether such right exists, landlords will be able to submit either a website or phone line enquiry. The email service will have a turnaround time of no longer than 48 hours. After this period, the landlord has the ability to let the property to the intended tenant. In essence this is much the same as existing employee checking type services.
The main purpose of the legislation is to deter illegal migrants from obtaining occupation of private rented residential accommodation and encourage the observance of immigration laws. In economic and societal terms, lawmakers have in mind British communities affected detrimentally by unlawful building structures and overcrowding. The Home Office has also mooted that landlords may also enjoy the benefit from less loss of rental income because of the higher standards required.
On the other hand, it is evident that there will be an additional administrative and bureaucratic burden on residential landlords
. Some commentators have queried why responsibility for compliance with immigration legislation should sit with property owners. At an economic level, it may cause landlords to prefer a British tenant over a non-British one. One could argue that it would be very tempting for the landlord to prefer the former where the potential administrative burden associated with the latter’s immigration status is the only point of difference. Conversely, it may lead to migrants proposing that they pay a higher rent to address this. In both cases, there is potential for unfairness, and potentially even unlawful discrimination.
Either way, the legislation has been passed and it is likely to be implemented some time in 2015, most likely after the General Election.