Landlords now face prison sentences over illegal immigrant tenants

Not content with forcibly enrolling all UK landlords in a compulsory tenant immigration screening scheme, the government has now decided to penalise landlords who have rented out properties to illegal immigrants with actual jail time.

While failure to comply with the immigration check results in a hefty fine, if you are actually caught out with an illegal immigrant tenant (regardless of whether you were aware of their status) then you can face up to five years in prison. This is obviously intended to motivate landlords to invest more heavily in protecting themselves and cooperating fully with the immigration status check. It is thought by ministers that the more vigilant landlords and agents are regarding this issue, the harder it will be for illegal immigrants to find housing in the UK, and subsequently our country will slowly lose its reputation as a state-funded haven for waifs and strays from all over the globe.

Rather oddly, though, only landlords stand to receive punishment under this new law. The immigrants who are reported by landlords under the ‘right to rent’ screening process aren’t necessarily deported, and while landlords risk jail by renting to them, it is has not been made clear what the consequences for the immigrants themselves are.

National Landlords Association CEO Richard Lambert warns that illegal tenants might go as far as barricading themselves inside properties or even responding with force when faced with eviction or deportation. “It could put people in potential danger,” he says. “We need to think through the consequences of the kind of systems we are putting into place.”

The Lib Dems are clutching their pearls predictably, but party leader Tim Farron raises some salient points about the inequity in risk for landlords: “If someone is living in this country illegally, we should pursue proper steps to ensure their removal from the UK,” he says. “It is alarming that David Cameron wants Britain to become a country where landlords are doubling up as border staff, and could face prison for failing to check complex paperwork. It isn’t a straightforward task –  even government Ministers have in the past failed to properly check the immigration paperwork of people they are employing. In government we stopped the Tories introducing these plans as it creates bureaucracy for landlords, uncertainty for legitimate tenants and does little to tackle the problem of illegal immigration.”

Landlords and letting agents with a record of renting to illegal tenants will also be placed on a so-called “blacklist”, even if they did their best to fulfil legal requirements. So if you don’t jump through each and every hoop David Cameron asks you to, your livelihood will be affected, you will be fined up to £3,000 and perhaps even spend five years of your life learning whether orange really is the new black. I can’t help but feel that punishing the private rental sector is an easier, more convenient way of tackling this serious social issue than taking a longer, harder look at border controls.

George Spencer is CEO at Rentify.