The new Immigration Bill, due to be ratified in 2014, will be imposing stiff fines for landlords who fail to comply with its proposals. The law will affect most private residential landlords, including those letting mixed commercial/residential properties. Its aim is to prevent those without a legal right to reside in Britain, from living in rented property.
Compliance with the legislation will be ensured by requiring landlords to conduct immigration checks on tenants. According to the UK Border Agency, “Many private landlords already make checks on tenants’ identity and credit status, making it difficult in practice for illegal migrants to rent properties from them. But not all landlords do that, and a small minority of rogue landlords knowingly target illegal migrants who are not in a position to complain about sub-standard accommodation.”
What Duties Does the New Bill Involve?
Landlords will be required to check the documentation of all adults (children are exempt) who are living within the rented premises, not just the documentation of those whose name appears on the lease. The process will begin prior to the rental, when landlords will ask prospective tenants to present evidence indicating that they have a right to remain in the UK. The checks must be made on a non-discriminatory basis, in that landlords should not assume legality (or lack thereof) based on name, accent, ethnicity, etc. The process should be completed before the future tenant takes possession of the property. The new regulations will not apply to tenants already living on the property at the time the regulations come into effect.
Whom Will the New Bill Affect?
- Those who rent out accommodation for living purposes, anywhere in the UK. This could potentially include those who take in lodgers in homes the landlords are also living in.
- Letting agents who find tenants for landlords or manage landlords’ properties.
- Hotel/guest house providers etc. who accept guests who stay for a period of three months or longer.
- Those intending to live in the UK in rented accommodation (potentially including lodgers in someone else’s home).
What Documentation Will Tenants Need to Provide?
Citizens from member states of the EU (as well as Iceland, Lichtenstein, Norway and Sweden) will have to present a national identity card or passport from the EU state, or evidence that they are receiving UK benefits. Most aspiring tenants from non-EU countries will possess a Biometric Residence Permit, which indicates expiry date of their permitted stay. Those staying for less than six months (who will not possess a Biometric Residence Card) will be required to show a passport with a UK immigration stamp and a valid time limit. In a prescribed number of cases (diplomats, those with an outstanding immigration application, etc.), alternative documents may be required to be presented.
If, subsequent to the checks, the landlord verifies that the prospective tenant has no legal right to rent out accommodation, the landlord will have no legal obligation to report the person to the Home Office, though they are welcome to do so.
Once the landlord has made the required checks, no further checks will be required, unless the tenant has a time limit on their stay – in this case, annual checks should be made (or a check should be effected when the person’s permitted stay is due to expire, if later). Landlords who do not live on the rented property, meanwhile, will have no obligation to check who is actually residing there once the initial checks have been effected. If an illegal migrant (who is not one of the persons disclosed to the landlord) is found living on the premises, the landlord will not be liable. If the landlord suspects that illegal migrants are living on his property, he may report the matter to the Home Office.
A landlord who purchases a property with existing tenants will have to check up on any tenants with time limits; the new landlord will also have to ensure that the periodic checks, since they will be liable to pay any relevant fines if they fail to do so.
What are the Penalties for Failing to Comply with the Law?
The penalties for renting illegal premises to illegal migrants are: £1,000 for every person in occupation illegally, or £3,000 per person if the landlord has already contravened the legislation in the previous three years. The government is still considering the case of tenants taking in lodgers. It has been proposed that lower penalties should be applied – some £80 and £500 per lodger, following the criteria mentioned above. Considering that many residential premises may house two or more adults, the tough nature of the fines is set to be worry for many landlords, who already have to protect themselves against general liability, including injuries sustained on the premises, in addition to paying for the upkeep of the property. The government has already been taking action against what it refers to as “rogue landlords providing sub-standard accommodation to vulnerable people, including illegal migrants”. In essence, the burgeoning rise in number of lifelong tenants mean that landlords need to view the landlord-tenant relationship far more seriously in the past, and the advent of the new Immigration Bill will only strengthen this tendency.
Various types of rented property are liable to be exempted from the scheme, including social housing, accommodation provided to employees, short-term business or holiday lets and more.
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