As widely publicised, the government is proposing to force private landlords to check the immigration status of prospective tenants before agreeing to let to them.
The new measures were announced in the Queen’s Speech last week as part of a package of legislation aimed at making Britain a less attractive destination for illegal immigrants.
It is not clear how the checks are intended to work, or indeed how they will be enforced. In a debate on the Queen’s Speech, Labour branded the measures “unworkable”. The Labour party is pressing for a compulsory register of private landlords (as is the case in Scotland) and argues that, without such a register, it will be impossible to know whether landlords are complying with the new immigration requirements (RentFair have argued that a landlord register would itself be unenforceable as appears to be borne out in Scotland).
The truth is that enforcement is not much of an issue. There are already plenty of regulations that landlords have to comply with with regard to health and safety, gas checks, HMO’s and the like, and for the most part these rules are adhered to. Adding yet another regulation does not make enforcement any more or less of an issue than it is now.
But getting back to the proposed immigration checks, and leaving aside the problem of enforcement, an obvious question immediately springs to mind. How would a landlord know whether a prospective tenant was here illegally?
RentFair’s Christian Duggan considers this question from a landlord’s point of view.
“As a landlord myself, my thinking goes something like this. It is possible to envisage a situation where landlords would be required to check an applicant’s passport and perhaps be required to make a copy of the passport for their records. That would not be too onerous and would be easy enough to do as part of the normal reference checks. Within the European Union I know there is freedom of migration so if the applicant was a citizen of an EU country it would be safe to assume that they were here legally. It is fair to say that most people could probably not name all 27 EU member countries but it would be easy enough to look this up. So far so good.
But, hold on, isn’t there some issue with Romanian and Bulgarians until January next year? Does that mean I can rent to them? Or is it just that they can’t work here until 2014? And then there are countries like Switzerland and Norway. They are not part of the EU but I think I am right in saying they don’t require visas. Does that mean I can let my property to a Norwegian without any further checks? Such a beautiful country. Not sure though.
And what about people from outside the EU. What if the nice young couple wanting to rent my flat were, say, from Japan? Personally, I would have no idea what the visa requirements are for Japanese citizens, whether they even require a visa, or how to check whether those requirements had been met. Isn’t there some rule for certain countries that they can stay here for up to 3 months without a visa? If so, how would I know whether they had exceeded that period. Or maybe there isn’t such a rule at all.
I have let to Australians before. Very good tenants they were too, even sticking back some of the loose tiles in the bathroom themselves to save me calling out a tiler. I am vaguely aware (I think) that citizens of Australia can come here for a year or so on a work permit. Or am I getting muddled up with UK citizens travelling to Australia on a work permit. Perhaps it’s not reciprocal. On second thoughts, aren’t Australians and Kiwis allowed to come here indefinitely? And what about the US? Can I let my flat to an American without being fined?
Then there is the whole issue with student visas. If someone proves to me that they have a student visa to study on a course, which ends in 5 months’ time, am I allowed to rent them a property for a year? If they show me their passport and a letter from the University of Bristol to say that they are on a degree course is that sufficient? Do I have to find out when the degree ends and make sure that they are safely evicted by that date, or will my obligations not extend to that? Do I have to call the University to confirm the letter is genuine? My flat is in London, so isn’t there something suspicious about them studying in Bristol? Am I legally obliged to follow that up?
At the moment, I am inclined to agree with the Labour party’s view that the proposals are unworkable. Without taking a lengthy course in immigration law, it would be almost impossible for the average landlord to know whether prospective tenants are entitled to stay in this country or not.
What is required perhaps is a simple way of checking someone’s immigration status: a clear stamp in the passport of all non-EU citizens, stating clearly when they are expected to leave our shores. No stamp, no tenancy. Seems a bit harsh, but that might work. But even then I can see some of those stamps becoming smudged and illegible. Hmm. Further thought required, Mrs May.”