By Carl Agar

As of 1st of February 2016, all private landlords in England must check that any new tenants have the right to be in the UK before letting a property. Any landlord that fails to check the status of their tenant could face a penalty of up to £3,000. ‘Right to Rent’ was introduced via the Immigration Act 2014 and the first phase was launched in parts of the West Midlands in order to trial the proposed approach. It is now applicable across the whole of the UK following a successful trial.

My view of the new requirement is that it is yet another burden placed upon the unsuspecting private landlord but ultimately it will ensure that all of us are checking that the tenant we are entering into a legally binding contract with is legally able to do so. Whilst I appreciate most of the media coverage about this was negative, it’s actually quite simple to comply with.

In short a ‘Right to Rent’ check can be done up to 28 days before a tenant takes up a tenancy. It's only applicable to new tenants that enter your property unless an existing tenant has a break in their agreement, leaves the property and then returns to take up a new tenancy. A really important point to remember is that the check must be carried out on all adults over 18 that will reside at the property even if they are not named on the tenancy. If you use an agent to place a tenant in your property then the responsibility for doing the check does pass to them. Be sure you get something in writing from your agent that one, they will do the checks and two, that they understand responsibility has been passed to them. For more information on the finer detail of ‘Right to Rent’ a really good resource is www.gov.uk/landlord-immigration-check.

Carrying out the check

The practicalities of carrying out the check are really quite straightforward. Firstly establish the full names of the prospective occupiers. You must obtain original versions of one or more acceptable documents for each occupier (the acceptable document list can be found on the link I mentioned above). It is important to check the document whilst with each person (e.g. does the picture on the passport match the applicant) and finally make a copy and make a record of the date the document was copied. The copy should be kept for 12 months. If the prospective occupier has provided a document, such as a VISA, that is time limited then it is your duty to record the expiry date and then request further evidence of their right to stay 12 months later or upon the expiry date of the visa, whichever is soonest. There are a few exemptions to this new legislation, holiday lets, if it's not the Tenant's main residence, house guests, care homes, hospitals, hospices, hostels, refuges and student accommodation provided by Universities (not private Landlords)

If you wish to let a property to an individual and they cannot provide any documentation listed in the Government Guide but they claim to have an outstanding immigration case with the Home Office then a landlord can request that the Home Office carries out the ‘Right to Rent’ check. It's a simple online form that the landlord completes and all they need from the occupier is the reference number for their case. If any landlord struggles with the internet and needs assistance then a very good helpline is accessible by calling 0300 069 9799.

Good luck and stay compliant! Best Practice Tip - I would advise that you always ask your tenant for a copy of a passport as your preferred identity document. If they have one and it's an EU passport then all you need to do is take a copy, keep it for 12 months and you will be fully compliant!