Legal Blog - Disclosure


A Landlord's Guide to Diplomatic Immunity

  • Law Clerk
  • Laura Farley
  • NVAR General Counsel
  • Sarah Louppe Petcher
Aug 19, 2016


When a foreign diplomat walks into your office seeking to rent a house or apartment from you, several thoughts might cross your mind: What do I do if this person defaults on the lease? Will I ever be able to get them out of the property? Do I have to rent to them? What should I do? When faced with this situation, you have three options available: 1) enter into a lease with the individual, 2) enter into a lease with the embassy or diplomatic mission directly, or 3) do not rent to the individual. Each option has different benefits and drawbacks, and you should carefully weigh all factors discussed below before making a decision.
Key Concepts Defined

Many of the terms that are used regarding diplomats are not fully understood by the public. Below are a few key issues to know when dealing with representatives of foreign governments:

Immunity -– Most people think that immunity refers to a pardon or release from responsibility for one’s actions. It actually means that the U.S. court system may not hear any case against a person who has diplomatic immunity. This means that a person with immunity cannot be sued in a court of law unless the person’s country of origin waives immunity.

Waiver of Immunity -– The individual who has immunity does not have the authority to waive it. Only the foreign government that is sponsoring the individual in the U.S. may waive the immunity, and this is a rare occurrence.

People with Immunity -– Ambassadors are traditionally the representatives of one government to another and are entitled to immunity.

Consuls are people who help individuals of a particular country while they are traveling or are living abroad, and they are also entitled to immunity. For example, if you lose your passport while traveling in a foreign country, you would speak to someone at the consulate for assistance, rather than someone with the ambassador’s office.

Personnel at international organizations, such as the United Nations, International Monetary Fund and World Bank, are also frequently given some level of immunity.

Inviolability –- This concept generally forbids U.S. authorities from entering the residences, automobiles or other property of a protected person. This means that even if a landlord was able to appear before a judge in court and get an eviction order, there is no police officer or individual in the United States who would be allowed to enter the property to remove the person.
Option 1: Lease between a Landlord and an Individual Diplomat

One important thing to understand before leasing to a diplomat is that there are different levels of immunity granted to the employees of a diplomatic mission. The U.S. Department of State issues identification cards to foreign officials who have been granted immunity. If a potential tenant presents you with a U.S. Department of State Identification Card that has a blue border, the individual is a diplomatic officer or immediate family member and has been granted full diplomatic immunity. This means that if you have not received a waiver of immunity from that individual’s government, any lease entered into cannot be enforced in the event of default.

If the individual has a U.S. Department of State Identification Card with a green border, the person is on the administrative, technical or service staff of the embassy, or the immediate family of one of these individuals. Again, if you do not receive a waiver of immunity from the individual’s government, any lease that is entered into cannot be enforced in the event of default.

The third type of U.S. Department of State Identification Card has a red border. Individuals carrying these cards work for a consulate and generally have immunity only for official acts, but the language on the back of the card should describe the specific immunity granted to the individual.

Generally, it is unlikely that any country will waive diplomatic immunity for an individual, especially in the case where the person has violated the terms of a lease. Because of the Geneva Convention, U.S. courts are not allowed to hear cases against people who have been granted diplomatic immunity, which means that you will not be able to enforce the lease.

While the U.S. Department of State may request that a country waive immunity for an individual, or request that a country recall an individual, this is not something that you should count on in the event that a diplomat stops paying rent and will not move out.

While there are potential risks associated with renting to someone with diplomatic immunity, many landlords have had extremely positive experiences. These individuals were selected to represent their respective countries in the United States, with all the responsibility that comes with such a position. In many instances it is the foreign government that pays the rent, not the individual, which can often mean fewer concerns about timely lease payments.
Option 2: Lease between the Landlord and the Foreign Government

One way to take advantage of all of the benefits of renting to a diplomat without having to worry about a tenant you cannot evict is to designate the embassy as the tenant. By renting the property to the embassy or consulate directly, and not the individual who is going to reside there, a different set of laws applies.

It may still be difficult to get a court ordered eviction, or any back rent owed to the landlord if the lease is directly with the embassy, but you will at least be able to have your day in court. Unlike individuals with diplomatic immunity, embassies that enter into lease agreements with landlords can be sued for non-payment of rent if the individual living in the home won’t move out.
Option 3: Not Renting to the Individual or Embassy

If the potential risks outweigh the benefits of renting to an individual with diplomatic immunity, and the embassy is not willing to enter into the lease on behalf of the individual, you may decide that this is not a good match. If this is the case, you need to be aware of potential discrimination claims against you.

In Virginia, it is not against the law to refuse to rent to individuals based on their profession, but it is illegal to refuse to rent because of their country of origin.

What this means is that you may adopt a policy of not renting to any diplomats, but if you decide not to rent to a specific individual based on the country that person represents, you may be breaking the law. The best practice is for landlords, leasing agents and property managers to consider what policy they believe is best for them, and make sure to apply it consistently in order to avoid any potential allegations of discrimination.

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