From 1st February, landlords across England will be expected to check the status of all prospective tenants to ensure they have the right to rent in the UK.
The government has warned that those who fail to comply with the legislation could face fines or imprisonment, and so it is crucial landlords familiarise themselves with the process and conduct the requested checks.
However, with many landlords fearing that they may face repercussions in the event of a mistake, immigration charities have expressed concerns that the new law could encourage a rise in discrimination against prospective tenants based on their ethnicity, name, or accent.
In this post the Immigration Advice Service (IAS) explains how landlords can conduct Right to Rent checks fairly and effectively.
What is a Right to Rent check?
From February, landlords will be expected to conduct Right to Rent checks every time they consider renting a property to a prospective tenant.
If a tenant chooses to sub-let part of the property they live in, they will be expected to conduct the checks themselves. However, this responsibility can be passed over to the landlord providing both parties agree to this in writing.
How are Right to Rent checks conducted?
The process of checking a prospective tenant’s right to rent can be broken down into four steps:
- The landlord must establish which adults will be using the property as their only or main home
- The landlord must refer to the list of accepted documents issued by the government and accept one of these documents from each occupier
- Once the correct documentation has been obtained, the landlord must check their validity with the potential tenants present
- The landlord is expected to make copies of these documents along with the dates the copies were made
It’s vital that landlords ensure all documents are original and belong to the tenant in question. Although landlords must check the expiration dates shown on the documents presented to them, it’s worth noting that some documents are acceptable even if their dates have expired.
Are the Right to Rent checks time-consuming?
Some landlords have raised concerns regarding the amount of time it will take them to conduct the checks and research suggests that some property owners plan to charge tenants administration fees in order to cover their time.
However, by integrating Right to Rent into their existing tenant vetting process and familiarising themselves with the acceptable documents list, landlords can save time and ensure the status of prospective tenants is addressed early in the application process.
Although charging admin fees may seem like the best way to compensate for additional paperwork, such charges could deter prospective tenants and limit the number of applicants a landlord is able to choose from.
How can landlords avoid breaking discrimination laws?
In December 2014, the Right to Rent scheme was piloted across the West Midlands. According to an investigation conducted by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, which surveyed landlords in Birmingham, Walsall, Sandwell, Dudley and Wolverhampton during this time, many landlords admitted to discriminating against those who they suspected to not be from the UK originally.
In fact, the JCWI found that 42% of landlords are unlikely to rent to those without British passports, while 25% of landlords are less likely to rent to people with a ‘foreign sounding’ name or accent.
Although it’s crucial that landlords avoid letting to those without the right to rent within the UK, it’s equally important that they don’t behave in a discriminatory way. Landlords must check the status of all prospective tenants, even if they know the prospective tenant personally or they’re confident about the person’s ability to rent in the UK. Landlords that make assumptions based on race or only check the status of some prospective tenants could find themselves breaching discrimination laws and may be subject to a financial penalty.
*This article was written by the Immigration Advice Service