Property Management Q&A - Spring 2016

Question:

I took over management of a building where we “inherited” some illegal aliens. Am I as the manager (or the owner) at any risk for allowing them to continue to live there?


Answer:

Unlike in employment (where employers are breaking the law when they hire folks not authorized to work in the US), there is no law at the federal or Washington State level that sanctions property owners or managers for renting to people because they are “undocumented.”

Digging a little deeper, one might ponder 8 U.S.C.A. § 1324, which states that it is illegal to “harbor” an illegal immigrant, or to encourage an illegal immigrant to stay in the United States, knowing that the person is in the U.S. illegally. Another part of that statue states that a person may be prosecuted for encouraging an illegal alien to reside in the United States, knowing that the person is an illegal alien. In order to convict a person of harboring an illegal immigrant, the government would have to show that the person was doing so “knowingly or in reckless disregard of the fact” that the immigrant was, in fact, illegal. I am not aware of any landlords or property managers being successfully prosecuted for violating this statute for the mere act of providing housing.

Following this thread a little farther, most landlords in fact do not inquire as to the immigration status of an apartment applicant. The interesting thing is that not inquiring makes a finding of a violation less likely, because (at best) a landlord can only be prosecuted under that law if the landlord knows that the tenant is an illegal immigrant.

I am aware of one case where a landlord was prosecuted under the “harboring” statute. A landlord in Kentucky was charged with 32 criminal counts for renting to 60 aliens. The indictment charged that the landlord’s translation of application forms into Spanish, and not requesting social security numbers was a violation. The case went to a jury, who found the landlord not guilty, because the law required proof that the landlord intended to conceal the tenants from the government.

A bigger risk is that a property manager could be liable for violating state or local fair housing laws for inquiring into the immigration status of some applicants (those “foreign” looking or sounding) but not others. According to the Q&As on the website of the King County Office of Civil Rights Enforcement, “Under fair housing laws, asking applicants if they are in the country legally is only acceptable if every applicant is asked for proof of legal residency.”

 


 

Christopher T. Benis

Christopher T. Benis

Christopher T. Benis is an attorney with Harrison-Benis, LLP with offices in Seattle. The information contained herein is not legal advice. You are encouraged to consult with your attorney before relying on anything contained herein.

 

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