There has been a mixed reaction to the government’s announcement that agents and landlords face jail if they fail to conduct Right To Rent checks or fail to evict known illegal migrants from privately rented properties.
The proposals - announced early yesterday and to feature in next month’s Immigration Bill when it starts its passage through Parliament - have been broadly welcomed by the Association of Residential Letting Agents.
ARLA managing director David Cox says the measures are “a good first step” which the association welcomes.
“The plans will help to weed out the minority of rogue landlords who exploit vulnerable immigrants for their own financial gain and, with the introduction of a new five year imprisonment penalty, will help to deter other such unscrupulous individuals from entering the private rented sector” he says.
“We will be organising training sessions for our members to ensure they are fully prepared and understand the new rules and we urge all letting agents to ensure they are ready for the impending roll out” he adds.
But the measures have been criticised in part by the chief executive of the National Landlords’ Association, Richard Lambert.
He told BBC Radio 4 that the proposal came “out of the blue” and appeared like a hasty response to the Calais migrant crisis.
The government suggestion that in some cases landlords should be able to evict without a court order was ”breaking the 40 year old principle that it has to be a court that ends a tenancy – take somebody out of their home” Lambert said.
“The Home Office expect that the tenant will comply with that. As we know, tenants don’t always comply with a court order or any order to leave a property when the tenancy is ended. Normally under a court process you’d be bringing in a bailiff” said Lambert.
In a warning that the proposal could be dangerous for an agent or landlord undertaking the eviction summarily, without a court order or bailiff, Lambert said: “I do worry in the case of an illegal immigrant you possibly have then a despairing person in a desperate situation. That often leads to people doing very desperate things. Who knows? Barricading themselves in? There is the risk of defending themselves with all the force they can muster. It could put people in potential danger. We need to think through the consequences of the kind of system we are putting in place.”
Lambert also expressed surprise that the government said it intended to jail agents or landlords who skip Right To Rent checks on tenants.
“This is the first we have heard of this very severe penalty. While I can see it is important to crack down on repeat offenders … it is quite surprising that it comes almost out of the blue. You do wonder how much it relates to the government wanting to be seen to be tough on migration given what is going on in Calais” he said.
Meanwhile the policy director of the Residential Landlords Association, David Smith, says there is already substantial confusion over the issue of checking documents of tenants to validate their status.
“There is the risk that people with unusual documents will be evicted by landlords who do not want to take the risk or who cannot understand their documents. Those landlords will then find themselves having acted in good faith at the time but possibly then facing an unlawful eviction claim if they are wrong” he says.
“Given the existing confusion over Right to Rent checks and documents the addition of a new criminal penalty seems premature - especially as the consultation in the West Midlands [pilot project of Right To Rent] has not yet finished.
“The government has not presented any evidence that landlords are directly involved in housing people they know to be illegal immigrants. There will now be concerns that landlords and agents will be prosecuted as much for not being able to operate the highly complex system as for wilfully ignoring it” says Smith.