Illegal immigration is a touchy and politically charged subject. It’s also an issue that many landlords in America need to address on a daily basis. There are approximately 11.5 million undocumented aliens living in this country, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates. Because the vast majority of these people don’t own a home, they must look to the rental market for their housing. So, landlords need to be aware of the legal implications of leasing to them.
The Pros & Cons of Leasing to Undocumented Aliens
Because they constitute a major part of the rental market in some parts of the country, categorically refusing to rent to undocumented aliens or even asking about immigration status may impair your rental business. It may also expose you to risk of liability under fair housing laws. This is especially true if the aversion is based on stereotypes about immigrants. Landlords may shy away from leasing to undocumented aliens based on stereotypes about their being unlikely to work hard and pay rent diligently.
On the other hand, in some states and municipalities, you can get into trouble if you do knowingly lease to undocumented aliens. You may also encounter difficulties if you do seek to hold such tenants legally accountable when rental or other disputes arise. “An undocumented alien has a much greater chance of being judgment-proof,” a Maryland attorney explains. “The landlord’s toolbox for collecting a judgment is neutered since there’s no bank account or legal job generating paychecks to garnish.” And if the state or municipality makes it illegal to rent to undocumented aliens, the landlord will want to avoid going to court in an eviction situation.
While there are no easy or absolute answers, the legal principles that landlords must understand to navigate this dilemma. Specifically, the fair housing implications of leasing—and not leasing—to undocumented aliens and non-U.S. citizens.