Should landlords be carrying out immigration checks on tenants?

Should landlords be carrying out immigration checks on tenants?

The government’s Right To Rent policy is being challenged in the High Court amid concerns that it encourages racism and discrimination by landlords against potential tenants.

The challenge was launched by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), which believes the policy is in breach of the European Convention of Human Rights as it “incentivises discrimination“.

Under the Right To Rent rules, within the 2014 Immigration Act brought into effect when Theresa May was Home Secretary, landlords are obliged to check that all prospective tenants have the legal right to rent residential property in England, checking their credentials before agreeing to letting the property. Those who do not comply with the rules face penalties or even jail.

Systemic discrimination

However, a number of critics believe that it should not be a landlord’s job to act as “border control” for the UK, and evidence from the JCWI has found that as many as 51% of landlords have been deterred from letting to foreign nationals as a result of the scheme, due to fear of ending up on the wrong side of the law.

Other supporters for challenging the policy include MPs, landlords and immigration lawyers, as well as the Residential Landlords Association. Despite assurances that the issue would be thoroughly evaluated, no evaluation has yet taken place.

Chai Patel, the legal policy director at JCWI, said: “Even if landlords have no desire to discriminate or be prejudiced, because they’re risking fines or having to find a new tenant, many landlords will pick people with British passports over people who don’t have them.”

“It’s systemic discrimination. At a time when lots of people can’t find housing, ethnic minorities and people who are not British are being put at a further disadvantage.”

Landlords could face jail

Under Right To Rent, landlords must carry out reasonable enquiries – such as obtaining an original passport or other document – to prove that their would-be tenants are eligible to rent and live in the UK. Failure to do so carries penalties, while knowingly renting a property to someone who does not have the right to rent comes with the possibility of a five-year jail sentence – which landlords are understandably keen to avoid.

David Smith, the policy director for the Residential Landlords Association, added that landlords were “in the impossible position of acting as untrained border police trying to ascertain who does and who does not have the right to be in the country”.

“This has created difficulties for many legitimate tenants as landlords are forced to play safe and only rent to those with a UK passport.”

New guidance was issued in April relating specifically to long-term UK residents who are involved in the Windrush scandal, as such individuals may not be able to prove their right to remain in the UK and therefore could face heightened discrimination through Right To Rent.

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