From 1 February 2016 landlords across the country will become responsible for policing the immigration status of their tenants
New legislation will impose fines of up to £3,000 on landlords in England who rent out their property to illegal immigrants. To avoid this fine, landlords will have to carry out more stringent immigration and identity checks on their tenants. There is a new code of practice for landlords to follow which will outline the checks they need to do.
Within 28 days of the start of a tenancy, landlords will have to carry out checks on all people aged 18 or over who will live at the property as their main home. All private landlords of residential properties in England will be subject to these rules, although certain types of tenancy, such as social housing, student accommodation and leases of seven years or more, are exempt.
Landlords will need to check the original documents that allow the tenant to live in the UK. A valid passport and (if necessary) visa endorsement should be sufficient in the majority of cases, but the government also provides a list of acceptable documents. Landlords should keep copies of all documents inspected and evidence of correspondence with the tenant. A government checking service will also be available.
If the tenant’s stay in the UK is time-limited, the landlord will have to make a further check just before the later of (a) the expiry date of the tenant’s right to stay in the UK or (b) 12 months after the previous check. If the tenant fails the follow-up check once the tenancy has already been granted, landlords do not need to evict the tenant but they must make an official report to the Home Office.
In most cases landlords are expected to pass responsibility for rent checks onto letting agents as part of the due diligence process on prospective tenants. This should be clearly agreed as part of the landlord’s contract with the letting agent.
The extra paperwork and threat of fines could lead to increased costs. Such costs may ultimately be passed down to tenants in the form of rental increases.
For now, landlords who fail to comply will escape with just a fine. However, parliament is considering introducing further sanctions, including prison sentences of up to five years.