NLA London Representative Richard Blanco has provided us with his thoughts on the Immigration Bill that had its second reading this week. Today he talks about proper tenant’s checks, the legality of the bill and the media’s reaction.
‘I did a piece for Channel 4 news recently about the government’s proposed landlord immigration checks. It was clear that the news team sent to make the film thought this was a cynical attempt by the government to pull in votes and turn us all into UK border police. I support the NLA line which is that if you’re a good landlord, you should be carrying out checks anyway and that this new regime will not be particularly onerous. My NLA colleague, Yvonne Baisden, appeared on Channel 5 and BBC News and it was interesting to note that media outlets used snippets of us being less than positive: they really wanted us to complain about the measure. I do have serious reservations and the NLA is also campaigning for some important changes.
This new measure, due to make its way through parliament and come into force in October 2014, will require anybody renting out accommodation in the UK to check that the prospective tenant is legally entitled to live here.
Failure to comply will result in a fine of up to £3,000.
Landlords or border police?
Controversially, if the tenant’s right to reside expires before the end of the tenancy, the landlord is expected to conduct a further check and report the tenant to the home office, if they do not renew their immigration paperwork.
The government argues that these provisions parallel those required of employers. Typically they will check a prospective employee’s passport along with taking a photocopy and landlords are expected to do the same. The consultation document states that landlords are not expected to be experts in detecting fraud.
Unless they accept documents that are readily apparent to an untrained eye as being forged or fraudulent, they will have a ‘statutory excuse’ from paying the penalty. The home office will operate a helpline to assist landlords with any verification queries.
Check your tenants
I am amazed at the number of landlords I meet who do not carry out proper checks on tenants. I always use the NLA Tenant Check to carry out ID and credit file checks plus landlord and employment references. I have great relationships with all of my tenants and have rarely had problems. You should never forget that in most cases the tenant has exclusive possession of your asset for a minimum of six months and on the rare occasions when court action is required to evict a tenant, it can take up to four or five months.
Under these circumstances it is essential to carry out proper pre-tenancy checks. I imagine that reference agencies will add immigration checks to their list of tasks and as there is considerable competition and demand in the sector, I don’t see a likelihood of costs increasing. Remember reference and letting agencies will be carrying out high volumes of checks and they will become very familiar with which documentation is acceptable. In many ways we have bigger battles to fight with the government, like the growth of Selective Licensing and Article 4 directions that ban shared housing.
The government’s claims that this new measure will add to local authority’s enforcement armoury are also persuasive. Many rogue and criminal operators prey on vulnerable tenants who do not have legal status, so the prospect of a fine could be a deterrent.’
Make sure you read part two tomorrow. Richard discusses what the future holds for landlords and the NLA campaign to revise the bill.