"Stop right there. Hands above your head. Don't move. Mavis, dial 999." Mr D Smith (MARLA, NFoPP) removes his Glock 19 from its holster. He's thinks the gentleman standing in front of him may not have the legal right to be in this country. He can't be sure but he can't take this risk.
No, not a scene from the latest episode of Breaking Bad but another day in the life of a Lettings Manager. Of course, we're just playing devil's advocate but if you have been following the industry news for the last two years, you'll know that landlords are soon going to be forced to check the immigration status of every new tenant. And because you're not allowed to discriminate or make assumptions about somebody, even British nationals will be subject to the checks.
Pandora's Box has well and truly been opened. Let's start at ground level. You're a landlord, managing your own properties. Suddenly you're being asked to obtain 'satisfactory evidence' that prospective tenants have the legal right to live in the UK. You'll also need to take copies of the documents and hold them on file for 12 months after the tenancy has ended. And if the tenant has limited leave to live in the UK, you'll have to perform repeated checks. Too much responsibility? "I might just sell up, especially with property values at a peak."
The other option? "I'll ask my letting agent to do that." Of course, some letting agents and property managers will be falling over themselves to offer an immigration check service (some might even charge an extra fee). It'll help win new business and maybe convert some tenant find-only clients into full management landlords.
I read this statement, however, on the Andrews website, which was alarming to say the least. It pertains to the proof of immigration status that a landlord or lettings professional will have to obtain:
"You’ll need to be happy that the documentation is genuine – the Home Office will have a phone line available to answer questions about this."
Point one: Will this addition to the Immigration Bill spawn a new black market for forged immigration documents? Is it fair a hefty fine will be levied if an unwitting landlord or letting agent fails to spot a fake?
Point two: Tell us more about the Home Office hotline. Will it take 45 minutes to get through to a befuddling 'press one for general enquiries' system? Have they ever called HMRC?
Point three: How will we prepare lettings and property management staff? After all, police and border control officers have industry training. And who will compensate agencies for loss of man hours if we're sending employees off to seminars and courses?
Point four: What do landlords and letting agents do if they suspect an illegal immigrant is either standing in their office or trying to secure a tenancy?
Point five: What will be done to address the supply imbalance in the private rental sector should there be a mass exodus among landlords?
Point six: Will the extra red tape involved in immigration checks slow the private rental sector down to crisis point?
It's real food for thought and smacks a little of 'passing the buck'. The next 12 months could be a testing time in lettings.
*Simon Duce is the Managing Director of ARPM Outsourced Lettings Support