Change to Immigration Bill welcomed, but are landlords still at risk?

HM Revenue and Customs building

The Residential Landlords Association (RLA) has welcomed a commitment by Immigration Minister Mark Harper to amend a clause in the Immigration Bill that could have rendered landlords unable to charge rent for or regain possession of a property occupied by a ‘disqualified’ tenant.

The controversial bill, which will see landlords obliged to check the immigration status of their prospective tenants, had its second reading in Parliament on 22 October, notably during which Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper stated that the Labour Party would not oppose the legislation, but rather seek to ‘amend’ it as it passed through Parliament. It was passed by 303 votes to 18, and is expected to receive royal assent in spring 2014.

Clause 17 provides that tenants disqualified from lawful immigration status are not to be granted tenancies, and that those who become disqualified during a tenancy lose their right thereto. However, in a letter to Mr Harper, RLA Chairman Alan Ward observed that, as worded, the clause might allow disqualified tenants who had taken up residence in a property to remain there rent-free pending appeal or deportation.

This would effectively impose a double penalty upon landlords in breach, wittingly or not, of the bill; firstly through a fine of up to £3,000 for each disqualified tenant granted residency, and secondly through the damage to the landlord’s rental business. In his response to Mr Ward, Mr Harper acknowledged this, responding:

"…I agree that the current wording of clause 17 … does risk introducing some potential ambiguity in relation to the wider validity of a tenancy contract. I share the Association’s concern to avoid this occurring and I am pleased to inform you that I intend to table a technical amendment at the Commons Committee stage which will make clear that nothing in this chapter affects the validity of any residential tenancy agreement.”

The Commons Committee stage involves a detailed examination of a piece of legislation passing through Parliament. The Immigration Bill entered this stage on 25 October. The Committee will complete its consideration by 19 November.

‘Physical situation’

This welcome news comes as senior landlord association members warn that the Immigration Bill could put landlords at physical risk from their tenants. Arguing that landlords have fewer resources than employers, National Landlords Association (NLA) Chair Carolyn Uphall says:

“Landlords simply cannot walk in the property and require the tenant to speak to them. If a landlord just turns up unannounced that can be harassment and a criminal offence.

“In the worse scenario, the tenant feeling themselves possibly under threat … could potentially become aggressive with the landlord.

“You only need one incident where the landlord and tenant get in some sort of physical situation for that publicity to put all landlords off even considering taking on anyone on a temporary visa.

“Then you have all those people as vulnerable tenants forced into the underclass of rogue operators who will not care who [they] take and certainly will not inform the immigration authorities.”

To find out more about the Immigration Bill and how it impacts you as a landlord, visit the Gov.UK website.

This information should not be interpreted as financial advice. Mortgage and loan rates are subject to change.