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UK court strikes ‘right to rent’ immigration housing policy

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The High Court struck down the UK’s “right to rent” policy on Friday as incompatible with human rights law.

The “right to rent” policy required private landlords to verify the immigration status of prospective renters. Under this policy, landlords who rented to undocumented tenants could face unlimited fines or prison time. This policy was a key aspect of the “hostile environment” scheme developed by current-Prime Minister Theresa May during her tenure as Home Secretary from 2010-2016. The policy and its goal of deterring undocumented immigrants from settling in the U.K. was reflected in both the Immigration Act of 2014 and the Immigration Act of 2016. Each statute contains provisions that restrict undocumented immigrants’ access to public services such as healthcare, education, and banking.

The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, a nonprofit immigrant-advocacy group, challenged the “right to rent” policy on the grounds that it violated human rights law. Justice Robin Spencer agreed, stating that “what the experience of the last few years has shown is that any scheme of this kind will inexorably lead landlords down the path of discrimination and operate in a way which is incompatible with Article 14 ECHR [European Convention on Human Rights].” The UK adopted the ECHR in its Human Rights Act of 1998. Article 14 provides protection from discrimination based on sex, race, and national origin.

The decision was praised by the Residential Landlords Association, who joined the case as intervenors:

We have warned all along that turning landlords into untrained and unwilling border police would lead to the exact form of discrimination the court has found. We call on the government to accept the decision, scrap the Right to Rent, and consider what else can be done to sensibly manage migration, without having to rely on untrained landlords to do the job of the Home Office.

The UK Home Office announced its disappointment with the ruling and intends to appeal.

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