The law on right-to-rent
The 2016 Right to Rent law has given landlords new responsibilities. Anyone aged 18 or over wishing to rent property in England and Wales now has to prove they are legally entitled to do this.
Depending on their immigration status, potential tenants fall into three groups: those with an unlimited right to rent, those with a time-limited right to rent, and those who have no right to rent. Designed to prevent illegal immigrants renting a home, it is you, the landlord, who is tasked with implementing the legislation.
Landlords are now obliged to check the government-specified identity papers of anyone who will be renting your property as their main home during the 28 days before their tenancy agreement begins.
There are severe penalties if you don’t carry out the checks: fines of up to £3,000 per tenant or even imprisonment.
Which tenants should you check?
To avoid falling foul of anti-discrimination laws, you should check all prospective tenants.
What must you check? The Home Office offers guidance on examining identity documents, and this tells you what to look out for:
- Are the documents original? Copies don’t count.
- Does the photograph look like the person in front of you?
- Is she or he aged over 18?
- Does the date of birth seem reasonable?
- Is the date of birth consistent between documents?
- Are the documents within their expiry date?
- Do they show signs of tampering?
- Can any changes of name be explained by other documentation, for example marriage certificates?
The importance of keeping copies
Once satisfied, the law demands that you retain a dated, permanent copy of all the identifying features of each document.
These copies are important. They are your ‘statutory excuse’, the proof that you carried out the checks and rented out the property in good faith. By showing these copies, you will avoid any penalties should the tenants later be found to be illegal immigrants. You can find out more HERE.
In the case of tenants with time-limited right to rent, you are required to repeat the document checks, either just before their time limit expires, or in a year.
Legally, you must report anyone who no longer has the right to rent to the Home Office. You can check your tenant’s right to rent HERE. You may even have to evict the tenant. On this, you can find more information HERE.
If you use an agent, make sure your written contract specifies which of you is responsible for carrying out the Right to Rent checks. Should you be uncertain about any of the documents the potential tenant presents, you are entitled to ask for further proof of that person’s right to rent.
When buying a property with sitting tenants, make sure the previous landlord has both carried out the checks and given you the copies that were made. The Home Office has said that it will not penalise anybody for being fooled by a good forgery, but remember, we are here to help.