Tories to regulate private rented sector? Don’t get excited…

The detail of this may have passed you by at the time, it certainly did me, but amongst the wind and posturing of David Cameron’s ‘big speech’ in March on stopping immigrants from getting things from healthcare to driving licences was quite a significant snippet on the private rental sector.

You have probably already registered the proposals for what Cameron calls ‘state sector’ housing – presumably meaning social housing – which is to introduce statutory allocation guidance:

New migrants should not expect to be given a home on arrival.  And yet at present almost one in ten new social lettings go to foreign nationals.  So, I am going to introduce new statutory housing allocation guidance this spring to create a local residence test.  Now, what this should mean is that local people rightly get priority in the social housing system.  And migrants will need to have lived here and contributing – contributed to this country for at least two years before they can qualify.

This is apparently to include EU migrants, beyond accession country restrictions. Good luck with that. However, many Councils already have residence period preferences and/or restrictions in place. (And, in passing, got to love that irrelevant statistic in the second sentence. How long have those almost 1 in 10 tenants been resident, David?). So, while this is nasty in tone, it partly amounts to smoke and mirrors in terms of policy, save possibly for those on the homeless route.

However, the next paragraph has a bit of a surprise:

Now, finally, as the Deputy Prime Minister set out on Friday, we’re going to radically toughen up the way we deal with illegal migrants working in this country.  Frankly, right now, today it is too easy to be an illegal migrant in Britain.  It’s too easy to get a driving license, get a house without a check on your immigration status.  So we are legislating to make sure illegal migrants can’t have driving licenses. I’ve already said how we’re changing the rules on social housing.  I now want us to make sure that private landlords check their tenants’ immigration status with consequences for those rogue landlords who fail to do so.

Wait, private landlords are to be required to check all prospective tenants’ immigration status? With penalties if they do not?

Apart from the immediate prospect of people being driven into unsafe ‘accommodation’ run by unscrupulous ‘rogue’ (and love that co-option of Shelter’s term) landlords, and the high likelihood of knee jerk racist assumptions by landlords concerned to avoid ‘illegals’, how could this wheeze of Cameron’s possibly actually work?

The starting point has to be that the government (and local authorities) have no idea who is a landlord, and who is responsible for what property. The flip side is that landlords have no means to check on immigration status. There is no realistic prospect that I can see of existing regulations being bent or stretched to cover PRS landlords, and no scheme of penalties for failing to do so (though I have been told of a failed attempt by UKBA to pressure landlords in Cambridge into thinking they were covered by hotel regulations in this regard. More on this when I get it).

So, practically, how could such a scheme requiring landlords to undertake checks of immigration status and penalising them if they didn’t actually work. Only two options spring to mind.

One is to basically do nothing at all, but allow for landlords to be penalised should by any chance, their property be raided by UKBA and illegal immigrants found to be living there.

The other is to bring in a register of landlords, possibly held by the local authority, and possibly require landlords to provide details of tenants. Quite how compulsion to register would be handled is an open question, as is where the cost would land, though the landlords would be the obvious target for that. But this would, in effect, introduce the obligatory landlord register that successive governments and landlords’ bodies have been so keen to avoid.

Quite what will come out of Communities and Local Government in response to this promise of Cameron’s will be interesting to see. Somehow, though, it is one policy I wouldn’t be surprised to see quietly peter out at consultation stage…

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Posted in Allocation, Assured Shorthold tenancy, assured-tenancy, FLW article, Housing law - All, Regulation and planning, secure-tenancy.

About Giles Peaker

Giles Peaker is a solicitor and partner in the Housing and Public Law team at Anthony Gold Solicitors in South London. You can find him on Linkedin and on Twitter. Known as NL round these parts, and still is Nearly Legal on Google +

10 Comments

  1. So the government are now proposing that we do the UKBA’s job. The only incentive to do so would be a carrot not a stick. Why do these politicians really believe that registratin of private landlords will actually stop ‘rogue’ landlords? Will they be the first in line to register?

    What we need is a housing minister who knows what he is talking about, perhaps a private landlord himself, and keep him in for the duration of the parliament. Having six housing ministers in two yearts does not help out cause.

    • Sue, I’m not sure what the PRS ’cause’ is, but the private sector has been pretty much left untouched by any Government for years.

      I would also prefer it if the housing minister was not a private landlord, to be honest. They have a lot to deal with that the limited view of a private landlord simply isn’t enough for.

      On registration and ‘rogue’ landlords, I’m not sure you actually read what was apparently being proposed. Cameron wasn’t concerned with low housing standards, poor tenancy management practice, retaliatory and unlawful eviction etc., just illegal immigrants…

      But a proper scheme of registration would certainly make rogue landlords easier to identify, to avoid and to prosecute. I’m still not clear why landlords are so fervently opposed to it, assuming they do act as they are supposed to.

      • Hi Giles,
        The government have not really left landlords alone. We have had to fight against making us responsible for our tenants’ behaviour. We have had to fight against a wash-hand basin in every bedroom where there are five or more occupants – Leeds would have needed an additional 40,000 wash-hand basins. We have had additional, mandatory and selective licensing. All this licensing has pushed the ‘rogues’ under the radar. It is the good landlords who have put their hands up and paid the fees, and now the local authorities are saying that it is impossible to find these ‘rogue’ landlords, despite the Land Registry Offices have an address for service. Registration will have the same affect. Where licensing has improved conditions, it is as a result of local authority employees actually doing the jobs they were paid to do in the first place but now the landlords are having to chip in for their salaries. There is enough legislation out there to protect tenants if any landlord is not doing things properly. The government have now given local authorities license to set their own council tax rates and private landlords will no longer have any exempt periods for voids. I cannot imagine the administrative cost for billing for one day’s council tax. Some local authorities will be charging up to 150% and yet with no one living in the property, there will be no one using the facilities like schools, libraries, roads, garbage collections etc etc. Social landlords will not be affected by this and they will continue to enjoy council tax exemptions for voids.
        The government’s proposals to reform the welfare system will impact hugely on all landlords, both private and social, with direct payments of rent to tenants. Despite the pathfinder samples showing huge rent arrears, the government still plan on pushing ahead without a safety net for payments to landlords. Those landlords who can are refusing to take any more Housing Benefit tenants. We have stopped taking any single under 35 year olds – they cannot afford the £42.69 per week (they only get £53 pw) top up which is the difference in Sunderland between the one bed rate and the single room rate. We only charge the LHA rate of £87.69 out of which we have to pay £20 per week service charges plus insurance, maintenance, repairs and cover voids. Last year we made 3% on our investments and we do not have any mortgages to service. I could go on and on.
        The reason I suggested that the Housing Minister should be a landlord was that s/he would have hands on knowledge. Also to have continunity would be appreciated. Housing is not something which you can buy and sell like stocks and shares overnight. We need to have policies for long term investments. The majority of landlords are there for the rental market not for speculative investments.
        Thanks for reading.
        Sue

        • Giles I missed your comment about my not understanding what Cameron was proposing. Yes I do understand what he is proposing re illegal immigrants – my whole argument is that he is asking landlords to be responsible for the failings of the UKBA. Another load of red tape for us to jump through and using a stick instead of a carrot to do so.
          Sue

        • Sue

          None of the licensing, HMO local regs, etc is from the Government. You simply can’t cast landlords as having to defend themselves against a Government when that Government (and the last couple) has done nothing at all about or to the PRS.

          I disagree on the possible benefits of registration though. Local Authorities with licencing schemes haven’t really utilised them in an effective way to inform prospective tenants. This could certainly be done better, but a registration scheme open for propsoective tenants to check would have value. I don’t agree ‘bad landlords have been driven underground’ – it was not as if they were overground in the first place. Whether Councils have been effective in taking action is another question and some certainly haven’t. That does not change the principle of licencing or registration.

          I agree the reform of welfare has and will impact landlords – though it now appears that direct payments will be set up at over 2 months arrears – but to characterise that as a Govt attack on landlords is taking special pleading to its limits! Frankly, I think it is going to be a dsiaster for all affected.

          I completely agree on long term policy being a good idea.

  2. Pingback: Landlord Law Blog roundup from 25 April

  3. In recent years Local Authorities have cut staff numbers and are continuing to do so. In particular Tenancy Relations departments that are involved in preventing harassment, illegal eviction and other related contract disputes, have been abolished in many areas and it is often difficult to ensure that LAs fulfil their obligations in those type of complaints. Many Environmental Health departments only concern themselves with the physical issues related to tenancies but do not have the staff to deal with none physical tenancy management issues. It remains to be seen if the borough wide licensing schemes proposed in London have sufficient staff resource to adequately inspect all properties before licensing or as many do at the moment, rely on a landlord’s declaration that the property meets the required physical standards. As for the management standards and compliance with tenancy law it seems as if some LAs accept that a landlord is fit if they agree to attend a one or two day training course.

    Statutory systems are only as good as the resources that are allocated to implement and enforce them.

    As for Mr Cameron’s proposal in respect of landlords checking a potential tenant’s immigration status, it is a non-starter. Even the London Metropolitan University with all it’s resources failed to satisfy UKBA that they could competently issue student visas. Private landlords, many of who only own two or three properties can not be expected to be able to check a person’s status and undestand the various immigration rules if many of them are not able to cope with tenancy law. In any event this will be another duty that a Local Authority will not have resource to enforce. This will be quietly forgotten about.

  4. Let’s not forget that all employers already have to check the immigration status of prospective and current employees. The check for prospective employees requiring seeing documents from a Home Office approved list.

    As such the possibility to mandate similar checks for prospective tenants is not that unrealistic on paper.
    In practice however, enforcement would indeed likely be by chance.

    Going back to employers, while large ones are subject to inspections, I’m expecting that (very) small ones are also mostly caught by chance, probably after an illegal immigrant is somehow caught.

    Remember the case of Baroness Scotland being caught with an illegal immigrant housekeeper back in 2009?

  5. Arizona has SB1070 which is now on hold due to racism as it became jail a Latino. Handing over the buck to landlords will have the same affect with not the correct colour being denied housing irrespective of status

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