Is renting to immigrants who are in the U.S. without documentation a liability for Texas landlords?
03/09/2017 | Author: Legal Staff
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit—which is based in New Orleans and hears cases for Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas—ruled Texas can enforce a 2015 state law that adds criminal penalties for “harboring” or concealing immigrants who are in the U.S. without documentation. However, the court clarified that landlords are not breaking Texas law and “harboring” if they rent property to these individuals.
Two landlords were among the plaintiffs involved in a lawsuit filed last January to block the harboring provision of that 2015 law, which made it a crime for “concealing, harboring, or shielding [a] person from detection” with the intent to obtain a profit. The landlords’ position was that the law exposed them to possible criminal liability since they rent properties for profit and do not ask tenants to provide evidence of their immigration status. They also argued that to determine tenants’ legal status would be time-consuming and an invasion of their tenants’ privacy. As a result of the lawsuit, a judge last April blocked the state from enforcing the harboring provision of the 2015 law. The state appealed.
In February, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals lifted the block on enforcing the harboring provision and dismissed the lawsuit, saying the landlords and other plaintiffs who sued “cannot demonstrate a credible threat of prosecution.” However, despite the dismissal, the court clarified that merely renting housing to an undocumented immigrant does not constitute “harboring … that person from detection.” Accordingly, landlords would not face criminal penalties for failing to check a tenant’s immigration status.
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