Since February last year, 2016, if you are a landlord, you have a new job. As well as being a landlord you are also an immigration officer for the government!
The Immigration Act 2014 imposes on all landlords in England (including lodger landlords) the obligation to find out whether the proposed occupants have a ‘right to rent’ property in the UK.
The regulations do not apply – at the moment – in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland. But they do apply in England.
What You Need to Do
You must check whether someone has a right to rent by checking documents. I’m not going to go into any detail about the documents you need to check here as it is all set on the gov.uk website.
You need to read that guidance and follow it every time you sign up tenants for a new property. Its best to refer to the online guidance as the Home Office amend it from time to time and you need to be referring to the most up to date version.
Who You Need to Check
You need to check not only tenants but ALL occupiers in the property, apart from underage children.
So this includes:
Other family members, including
Live in staff / help
So far as children are concerned, it’s best to get proof of age as teenagers’ appearances can be deceptive.
When You Need to Do the Check
You are supposed to do the check before the tenant moves into the property. You need to see the original documents and have the occupier in front of you personally while you do the check.
You need to keep a record of the results of the check, copies of the documents you were shown, and details of any questions you ask and the answers you are given.
This record need to be kept very carefully.
If for some reason the tenancy agreement has to be signed in advance of the right to rent check being done, you need to include a clause making the agreement conditional upon a satisfactory right to rent check on all occupiers.
Then if you find out that the proposed tenant does not have a right to rent, the tenancy agreement will no longer be effective.
However it is important that you do the check before the keys are handed over – as doing it after then will be too late! The tenancy will have started.
Things You Need to Watch Out for When Doing the Check
You are not expected to do a forensic examination of the documents to spot forgeries which are not obvious. However you are expected to be alert to the possibility of illegality. For example
You need to check that any photo on an ID document looks like the person in front of you
Be suspicious if documents are very crumpled as this may be an attempt to disguise a forgery and
Be suspicious if the tenants are taking on a property that appears to be too big for them – are they looking to take in unauthorised people e.g. as lodgers? You need to ask that. And keep a record of the answer they give.
What Can Happen if the Check Is Not Carried Out?
If you let tenants into occupation without doing the check, you are taking a risk. If the Home Office later find that the tenants ARE illegal immigrants – you will be at risk of a penalty fine or (for cases the Home Office consider more serious) prosecution and a custodial sentence.
The penalty fines are £1,000 for a first offence and £3,000 for any subsequent offences. Or if you are a lodger landlord, the amounts are £80 and £500.
However if you have done the check and are able to provide proof of this, then even if the tenants are in this country illegally – you will be protected. You have complied with the law and are safe from the penalties.
The checks need to be done before the tenants go into occupation because if they are done afterwards, there is nothing you can do if the tenants turn out to be illegal immigrants. They will be your tenants and have a right to live in the property.