ASK THE EXPERT
Q. I am a very small-scale private landlord. Is it true that people like me are now expected to check the immigration status of prospective tenants?
A. I'm afraid so. This is the so-called Right to Rent legislation, which applies from 1st February 2016. Basically, it requires all private landlords in England - including people who sub-let or even just take in lodgers - to check that any new tenants have the right to be in the UK, before renting out their property to them. Failure to check could result in a fine of up to £3,000 per tenant, if they are subsequently found to be here illegally.
The new rules are part of the Immigration Act 2014. A new Immigration Bill builds on the reforms in last year's Act, and proposes new measures to make it easier for landlords to evict illegal tenants. It also creates a new criminal offence targeted at unscrupulous landlords who repeatedly fail to carry out the proper right to rent checks.
Under right to rent, landlords have a legal duty to check identity documents for all new tenants and take copies. A range of commonly available documents can be used. These basically fall into two main categories: 1) things like UK passports, current driving licences and official paperwork issued by HMRC or the Department of Work and Pensions which prove that the holder has the right to permanent residence in the UK, and 2) other types of document which are applicable to people who only have the right to stay in the UK for a limited amount of time.
All new tenants - British citizens or not - will have to undergo these checks, but people with a legitimate right to be here should (at least, according to the Government!) have no trouble proving it.
Needless to say, these new rules have received a mixed response - to put it mildly. Why landlords should effectively be made to do the work of the Border Agency is only one of the questions that have been raised, and pretty much ignored. Still, the fact remains that you and every other landlord will have to abide by the rules. The Government says it will be providing all landlords with guidance notes - but in the meantime, if you want to know more, you can check the Home Office website.
Alternatively, if you use a reputable lettings agent, they can do the checks for you - as long as they agree in writing to take on the legal responsibility.