Yesterday the Prime Minister announced that, all private landlords will have to check the immigration status of new tenants or face a penalty. This rather took us by surprise at Shelter. After all, the coalition agreement notes that any new regulation will only be introduced if two others are cut – and we’ve not seen a willingness to bring in additional requirements on landlords, even where these would demonstrably improve renters’ lives.
At Shelter, we’re not in favour of anything that makes it harder for people to find a home. Getting landlords and letting agents to check immigration status could lead to increased discrimination against prospective renters of BME backgrounds, foreign nationals and those with poor English.
And we’re puzzled as to how this rule could be implemented. Currently, landlords and letting agents have no formal relationship with the state – unlike, say, employers. There is no national register of landlords. Many landlords routinely flout the few existing requirements placed on them – about the safety of their property, for example, or the need to pay tax on their income from renting. Yet, with this proposal, it looks like government wants landlords to step into the role of border control.
And letting agents operate almost entirely outside of officialdom. Lettings has been a boom industry in recent years as the numbers of people renting have soared – but agents do not have to register, do not have to protect the money they collect for landlords, and do not even need to have professional indemnity insurance. No-one even knows for sure how many letting agents are operating.
Where letting agents or landlords do flout the law, the likelihood of them being caught and punished is very small. There were just 487 successful prosecutions of landlords last year – mostly driven by a small handful of active local councils pursuing rogues.
Given all this, we really don’t understand how a system of using landlords and letting agents as an arm of the state to check up on illegal immigrants could work.
Of course, if the PM has seen the case for better private renting and is now willing to give legislative time to it, we have a couple of suggestions as to what he might want to prioritise. Mandatory electrical safety checks for rented homes, protection from eviction for renters who complain, and bringing in the Stable Rental Contract would be a good place to start.