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Can agents and landlords cope after being ‘dumped’ with the responsibilities of dealing with illegal immigration?

Article by Giles Inman on Aug 04, 2015 View in browser

Can agents and landlords cope after being ‘dumped’ with the responsibilities of dealing with illegal immigration?

Concerns are rising that the imminent roll-out of Right to Rent has been badly thought out on grounds too numerous to mention. No firm date has yet been announced, but it is thought it could be as early as October. The Home Office may clarify it this week.

Commentators yesterday said that the whole immigration crisis has been dumped on letting agents and landlords, with one critic saying: “It’s all very well for landlords and agents to be checking tenants. But how did illegals get through in the first place?”

The Government has also broken its promise, that it would not take the scheme nationally across England until it had evaluated the pilot in the West Midlands.

Industry compliance expert Mike Day told us yesterday evening: “The pilot is neither complete nor fully evaluated.

“The whole immigration problem is now being simply dumped on the industry.

“It is likely to cause chaos and high levels of non-compliance, plus potential for discrimination.

“Agents and landlords will take the easiest and safest route that would mean not letting to any foreign nationals.”

Day echoes the major concern that agents and landlords, faced with the prospect of fines and jail, will discriminate against any tenants who look or sound as though they might be in any way ‘foreign’ especially if they cannot produce documentation.

There is already evidence that the pilot scheme, requiring landlords or their agents to check the immigration status of tenants, has led to British citizens without adequate paperwork being rejected.

Some of these prospective tenants have been hard to verify because they do not have passports and cannot afford the £72.50 fee to obtain something that they do not otherwise need.

Others have not been able to produce birth certificates.

There are fears that if the Government’s proposals go ahead, it will simply lead back to the old days when agents and landlords discriminated against certain tenants – the difference being that they will now do so on the back of legislation making it expedient for them to take certain decisions.

Another concern is over the requirement for “abrupt” evictions, where the Home Office declares a tenant to be illegal.

Under the impending national scheme, landlords or their agents will be required to evict tenants who have no right to be in England.

Such evictions are intended to be immediate and without recourse to the courts.

However, ministers have already acknowledged that some tenants will dispute the eviction, turning it into a long and dragged-out legal process.

If so, it would be landlords paying for the eviction.

Ways in which tenants can legitimately stave off eviction will, from October, include objections to being asked to leave after they have asked their landlord to repair properties.

The so-called ‘retaliatory’ evictions law is due to kick in under the Deregulation Act 2015.

Other concerns include George Osborne’s Budget statement that private tenants would find it easier to sub-let – meaning that landlords and agents may find it harder to know who is living in the property at any one time.

Yet another concern is there is also no detail as to protocol on tenants who subsequently lose their asylum applications should be treated if they have Assured Shorthold Tenancies.

Critics also point out that the West Midlands pilot, running since only last December, has not been evaluated.

Yet the national roll-out has now been announced despite the Government promising last September that it would be phased in nationally only “following an evaluation of the implementation in the West Midlands”.

Landlords and agents who do not comply with the requirement to check tenants and get eviction under way where necessary, risk jail sentences of up to five years.

The Residential Landlords Association said that the roll-out of the scheme could lead to lawful tenants being denied a home and welcomes proposals to simplify repossession when an illegal immigrants has been identified by the Home Office.

What we need is clarification as to how long this process will take. Given the increased penalties announced, landlords will err on the side of caution and may deny accommodation to those fully entitled to it.