Immigration is a subject that lately has generated significant debate at the federal level and local level. As efforts to regulate immigration in Congress continue to stall, state and local policymakers are weighing in on the issue on a more frequent basis.

While the issue is being used as a political football at all levels of government, there is one consistent outcome—property owners and operators are required to comply with a patchwork of onerous requirements and face possible legal liability under fair housing laws when it comes to screening the immigration status of residents. Onsite staff are not equipped to police or determine the validity of residents’ immigration paperwork.

Regardless of whether legislation seeks to mandate or to prohibit housing providers from inquiring about the legal residency of immigrants, both create potential challenges for the apartment owners and operators. Such laws can interfere with owners’ overall resident screening process and may not be limited to verification of immigration documents.

An apartment owner or operator can come under scrutiny and to be subject to a fair housing disparate impact claim if the owner requires applicants to provide a Social Security number or otherwise show documentation to prove legal immigration status as a condition of tenancy. Disparate impact is when a policy has a discriminatory impact on residents. The policy may not on its face be discriminatory, but in practice it may have a discriminatory impact on others.

In general, the multi-family housing industry supports comprehensive federal legislation that would help create predictability and consistency for apartment owners and operators. As they consider immigration legislation, our state and local policymakers should recognize the importance of resident screening in rental housing. Screening is essential to help owners manage their finances, assess risk and protect the safety and security of residents, employees and their assets. In particular, lawmakers should avoid implementing measures that would restrict the use of Social Security numbers or credit history or require housing providers to authenticate the immigration status of prospective or current residents. Enforcement of such laws can create administrative burdens for apartment providers, reduce the supply of available rental housing and further exacerbate housing affordability issues.

Conversely the NAA opposes efforts to implement laws that would limit an apartment owner or operator’s ability to properly screen residents, or measures that would require them to enforce federal immigration laws. Housing providers are not in the business of policing or authenticating the validity of an individual’s immigration paperwork.