UK residential landlords to be forced to check immigration status of foreign tenants

Residential landlords in the UK are to be forced to vet tenants’ right to live in the UK before agreeing a tenancy under proposals published in Parliament in today’s Queen’s speech.

It is estimated that there are around two million buy to let property owners who will be responsible for checking the immigration status of tenants but it is unclear what they will have to do.

They will face fines for failing to do so and it is not yet clear exactly what they will have to do to ensure they are not prosecuted. But checking passports and immigration papers is likely.

Some critics said it could be putting a difficult task on the shoulders of landlords as many illegal immigrants are known to have forged or stolen papers. Also until the details of the new law are published it is will not be clear who ultimately is responsible if an illegal immigrant is found living in a property.

However, the National Landlords Association (NLA) welcomed the commitment to tackling criminals who blight the private rented sector. ‘Every landlord should thoroughly reference a tenant prior to offering a tenancy. This is standard best practice which safeguards the landlord’s business,’ said NLA chief executive officer Richard Lambert.

‘Tenant checks should include not only an identity check, as suggested, but also whether the tenant has any County Court Judgments, possible aliases and include references from their employer and a previous landlord. Such checks should highlight any immigration irregularities,’ he explained.

He believes it will be more of a burden on local authorities.‘They must undertake robust, intelligence led, targeted enforcement, otherwise illegal immigrants who are refused housing by reputable landlords will face homelessness or be pushed straight back into arms of the criminals who deliberately exploit vulnerable people,’ said Lambert.

Stephen Nation, head of lettings at the Sequence Group, which includes Barnard Marcus, William H Brown and Fox & Sons, said it could be hard to implement. ‘If it’s to be the responsibility of all landlords to check passports and visas of foreign tenants that will lead to questions about how equipped an amateur landlord is at carrying out and verifying these checks,’ he said.

‘Imposing substantial fines on landlords who fail to carry out these measures will be hard to implement as is the current legislation for private landlords to lodge deposits in an accredited scheme,’ he pointed out.

‘Lettings agents already carry out stringent tenant checks; unless a private landlord makes regular checks on the property they could find that the tenant who signed the agreement and met the legislated checks is in fact subletting to a number of illegal tenants. These proposals will not be able to address this scenario and instead are just passing off the onus of implementation of the Immigration Act on to landlords,’ he added.

David Brown, commercial director of LSL Property Services, owners of lettings agents Reeds Rains and Your Move, said it will be another onus on already hard pressed landlords.

‘The government shouldn’t be putting obstacles in the way of landlords expanding their portfolios when tenants need the private rented sector more than ever. More rules forced upon the industry by government will only make renting less efficient and ultimately more expensive for tenants. At a time of huge financial pressure this industry has not only survived, but picked up the slack,’ he explained.

‘Since 2008, landlords have collectively delivered a 10% increase in the number of homes to let, with the average rent rising below the level of inflation. Over the last five years consumer price inflation has amounted to an 18% hike in everyday costs but the average rent is up only 14% over the same period.

‘Landlords have done more to cushion the blow of the recession on the poorest households than even the noisiest supermarket reductions. Landlords who already use professional property managers who abide by existing voluntary codes from the Association of Residential Lettings Agents can rely on them but those who don't may baulk at investing further,’ he added.