The government has announced new measures that will affect landlords of residential property.  If introduced, landlords or their agents must check the identity and immigration status of their tenants.  More importantly, landlords in England will have to evict tenants who have no right to remain in the UK and could face imprisonment if they fail to do so.

Immigration checks have been trialled in the West Midlands since last year with the Home Office set to evaluate the scheme.  Although no report has yet been published, the government announced on 3 August that it intends to extend the scheme across the country through the forthcoming Immigration Bill.

In the UK it is estimated that 85% of immigrants rent properties in the private sector and the government is determined that landlords check whether tenants are legally entitled to be in the country or not.  The current trial includes all tenancies (including assured shorthold tenancies) granted for up to seven years  The measures may affect commercial landlords who, for example, let residential flats over retail units on short term leases.

Landlords or their agents who fail to carry out the necessary checks and processes will face fines and the threat of criminal sanctions.  These could be up to 5 years’ imprisonment for repeat offenders or landlords who fail to remove illegal immigrants from their property plus the possibility of rent confiscation under the Proceeds of Crime Act.

To remove a person from a property currently requires a court order.  The government proposes to make eviction of illegal immigrants easier for landlords, in some circumstances without a court order.  The precise detail of how this will work is unclear as the Immigration Bill has yet to be published. However, the government envisages a notice being issued by the Home Office confirming that the tenant no longer has the right to rent in the UK after which the landlord would be expected to ensure the tenant leaves the property.

Whilst the responsibility for rent checks will no doubt be absorbed by letting agents as part of the due diligence process on prospective tenants, the obligation on landlords to remove tenants and monitor immigration status will be particularly burdensome.  Increased  costs may be passed down to tenants in the form of rental increases.  Faced with the threat of fines and a custodial sentence, not to mention the additional layers of bureaucracy, landlords may well react overcautiously when it comes to letting. The Immigration Bill needs to ensure a fair balance is reached between the government’s determination to tackle illegal immigration and the burdens placed on landlords in carrying out that policy.