Crystal Horwood Blog
Tuesday 21st May 2013
So the Government wants us to carry out immigration checks on prospective tenants.
Well, unlike a lot of those who have commented on the proposals, I support the general thrust of what is trying to be achieved but have a few questions of my own.
As a responsible landlord and letting agency, we already carry out extensive checks on tenants’ legal status to stay in the UK before we start looking at properties – our clients would expect us to. It’s not just about being a responsible landlord, it makes commercial sense.
If someone is not entitled to be here and is discovered by the police or immigration services, it can result in a quick exit from a property and extra costs for a landlord which will not be recoverable.
A few years back we had a situation where a tenant was forcibly removed from one of our managed properties and was eventually sent back to Africa over an issue unrelated to his immigration status. It meant unpaid rent, the added cost of clearing the flat of goods and personal possessions, and a lot of administrative time dealing with the authorities.
Fortunately, that was a rare occurrence, but if new, more stringent checks on a client’s immigration status can avoid one repetition it can only be good for our business. Besides, we already have to carry out similar checks on anyone we employ so the extra burden shouldn’t be too onerous.
However, with any proposed legislation the devil will be in the detail. Since the announcement of a new Immigration Bill in the Queen’s Speech, I am interested to know what we’ll be required to do and how it will be policed.
Will we need to check passports, visas or work documents to confirm legality? Should a proposed tenancy only reflect how long a person is allowed in the country? Which government department am I answerable to – the police, immigration, Home Office?
If Pace is presented with fake documents and is duped, is that a defence? You only have to Google ‘counterfeit passports’ to realise there are some very good printers out there!
Would the passport agency or other Government departments share information with reputable letting agencies or maybe only those who are members of a trade body like ARLA or the NLA? Or perhaps Data Protection laws might prevent that. Will we have to vet everyone – I suspect so? Do we have to vet for each property applied for, even if the person has only been living somewhere for two weeks and needs to move through no fault of their own?
I know that a number of opposition Labour MPs, including former housing minister Yvette Cooper, have said the plans are ‘unworkable’, but I think it’s an opportunity for the reputable majority of our sector to engage with government to work out the detail of how this will work.
Yes, we may incur extra costs which may be passed on to clients, but I don’t think they are insurmountable. One positive by-product of the new Immigration Bill might be to drive out the disreputable element of the private rented sector, which can only be a good thing.
As long as the Government can explain the mechanics and detail of the proposed plans, and that having carried out due diligence is a defence, I’m a supporter. I think this is an opportunity which could further professionalise our sector.
* Crystal Horwood is a landlord and also managing director of lettings and property management business PACE in Southend
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