From 1st February, landlords are to take on another role, in addition to social worker, decorator, odd-job man, and the myriad other roles that being a landlord entails; from 1st February, they will become (unpaid) immigration officers as legislation now demands that properties should not be let to anyone coming into the country that does not enjoy the Right to Rent.
This means checking the immigration status of anyone that they wish to let their property to. Citizens of the UK, Switzerland or the European Economic Area are exempt from the Act, but landlords must ask for proof of this – to guard against accusations of discrimination.
There are three categories of people who do have the Right to Rent, but whose status must be carefully checked. These are:
- Someone with an ‘Indefinite Right to Rent’ – someone with indefinite leave to remain or right of abode in the UK;
- Anyone with a ‘Time Limited Right to Rent’ – someone with limited leave to remain in the UK or a right to live in the UK under EU law; (not European citizens, who are exempt)
- Someone with a ‘Discretionary Right to Rent’ – this is granted by the Home Office in some cases. For example, where cases are waiting to be resolved or legal proceedings are being taken to resolve the issue. This must be formally applied for and proof provided that this is the case.
If a prospective tenant cannot provide evidence of their status, landlords must refuse them. A passport, biometric residence permit, national insurance no. are all acceptable proof, but must be photocopied and kept for one year after the tenancy has terminated.
The legislation says that the checks must be done within 28 days of the tenancy starting, due to the fact it may take some time for a prospective tenant to provide the necessary paper work; this hardly speaks of familiarity with the running of a private sector letting business – few landlords would wait 28 days for a tenancy to commence.
The Government believe that telling landlords that they must have a standard procedure for deciding on tenants, asking all for proof of their eligibility for renting, will ensure there is no discrimination – a naïve view, at best. Though this legislation does seem to give any racist landlord carte blanche to discriminate against any group vulnerable on the grounds of race or religion, many landlords may refuse prospective tenants because they are unsure their checks are adequate and fear that they will transgress the law – and penalties for letting properties to those who have no right to obtain accommodation are heavy, with fines of up to £3,000 for every illegal occupier (though this only applies to those aged over 18).
Landlords must make sure they do the checks on all tenants; there is a general telephone helpline 0300 069 9799, which is at the Home Office, if more information is needed. Though they can only deal with the few very clear cut, individual cases.
One final reminder – landlords who accept, even with the requisite proof, someone from abroad, need to be aware that whilst you do the checks, your tenants won’t, if a friend or relative asks can he stay. In a strange country, to assist a fellow-countryman is a point of honour, but this would not protect you, should it be discovered. Therefore, make sure you do regular inspections, check who is living in the property, looking for signs of someone unknown also being at the property.
For advice on buy to let issues – Ask Sharon