19 March 2019 - Article
On 17 September 2015, the Immigration Bill 2015 ('the Bill') was introduced into the House of Commons. Clauses 12 to 15 of the Bill relate to residential tenancies and further develop the 'right to rent' measures that were introduced by the Immigration Act 2014 ('the 2014 Act').
By way of reminder, the 2014 Act imposed a new requirement on private sector landlords to check that a tenant's immigration status does not disqualify them from renting property (i.e. they have 'the right to rent'). Where the scheme is in operation, landlords who allow tenants without a 'right to rent' to occupy their property are liable for a civil penalty (up to a maximum of £3,000 per tenant). The scheme has been piloted in five West Midland council areas and the government has just announced that the scheme will be introduced on a nationwide basis from 1 February 2016.
The Bill serves two main purposes in relation to residential tenancies:
1. To make it more difficult for those with no right to be in the UK to rent private accommodation; and
2. To crack down on rogue landlords and agents who exploit migrants and abuse the immigration system.
The Bill provides private sector landlords with new powers to evict illegal migrants. Where a landlord is notified by the Secretary of State that a person occupying their premises is disqualified from renting, the landlord will be able to serve a notice to terminate the tenancy (the minimum notice period will be 28 days). This notice will be enforceable as if it were an order of the High Court.
The Bill also provides for a new mandatory ground for landlords to obtain possession of a property following receipt of a notification from the Secretary of State that a tenant is a disqualified person.
However, whilst landlords will welcome the above, they should be aware of the harsher sanctions introduced by the Bill for non-compliance.
The Bill would create four new criminal offences applicable to landlords and letting agents who let properties to migrants who do not have a valid immigration status.
The first two offences apply to landlords and are as follows:
- If a landlord under a residential tenancy agreement knows or has reasonable grounds to believe that the premises are occupied by an adult disqualified from renting as a result of their immigration status. It should be noted that this applies where any adult is occupying the premises, regardless of whether they are a tenant or named on the tenancy agreement.
- The second offence is committed where a tenant's leave to remain in the UK expires during the course of the tenancy, the tenant continues to occupy the property and the landlord is aware of this, or has reasonable cause to believe this has happened and fails to notify the Secretary of State.
The second two offences apply to letting agents and are as follows:
- A letting agent will be committing an offence if they carry out right to rent checks for a landlord and know, or have reasonable cause to believe, that a landlord will be entering into a tenancy agreement with someone disqualified as a result of their immigration status and fails to tell the landlord despite having sufficient opportunity to do so.
- An additional offence will be committed where an agent carrying out right to rent checks for a landlord does not notify the landlord and Secretary of State when a tenant's leave to remain in the UK expires during the course of the tenancy and they continue to occupy the premises with the agent's knowledge or where the agent has reasonable cause to believe this has happened.
A landlord or agent who is guilty of one of the above offences will be liable to imprisonment for up to twelve months or to a fine (or both) on summary conviction or up to five years imprisonment or a fine (or both) if convicted on indictment.
It is worth noting however, that the guidance notes state that the main sanction for landlords who fail to perform adequate checks on their tenant will remain the civil penalty in the 2014 Act scheme. The additional offences are specifically targeted at rogue landlords and agents who deliberately and repeatedly fail to take steps to remove illegal migrants from their property or carry out right to rent checks.
Subject to parliamentary approval of the Bill, it is intended that commencement of the above provisions will start from summer 2016.