WHAT IS RIGHT TO RENT?
Right to Rent makes landlords legally responsible for checking the residential status of their incoming tenants. Before 2016, the primary components of renting out a property were tenant referencing (not mandatory, but something all landlords should do) and signing an Assured Shorthold Tenancy agreement (AST).
Since the passing of the Right to Rent legislation, all incoming tenants are required to provide a copy of their passport and, where appropriate, immigration documentation, which you or your letting agent must verify.
To quote the government’s official handbook, “All landlords in England have a responsibility to prevent disqualified persons from accessing the private rented sector. You do this by conducting Right to Rent checks on all prospective adult tenants before the start date of a tenancy agreement, to make sure the person is not disqualified from renting a property by reason of their immigration status.“
HOW DOES IT WORK?
In a nutshell, you are required to:
- obtain an original item of identification for all prospective occupants aged 18 or over;
- confirm the authenticity of each ID;
- make copies of all documents;
- return the originals to the tenant(s).
To carry out a successful Right to Rent check, you or your letting agent must obtain an original item of identification for every person aged 18 or over who will be living at your property, even if they aren’t named on the tenancy agreement. This can be a passport, permanent residence card, UK immigration document, or others found on the official Right to Rent website.
Every person you check for Right to Rent must be physically present with their original documentation, either in person or by video call. You cannot simply accept digital scans by email.
You or your agent must then check the documents’ validity by cross-referencing them with accepted documents on the government’s website. Remember to check details like expiry dates on visas and other time-limited travel documents.
Finally, you need to make a copy of each document to keep throughout the length of the tenancy and for one year after your tenants vacate. Time-limited documents – a visa that lasts for two years, for example – require follow-up checks when they’re due for renewal, so remember to put a reminder on your calendar. After the initial checks have been completed and copies made, the originals should be returned to the tenant(s).
Subletting is rarely a topic that gets landlords excited, although you may ultimately decide it’s something you’re happy to allow. If that’s the case, anyone who rents via subletting will also need to go through the Right to Rent process, but this time it's your tenant who must conduct the checks and to effectively become the landlord to the subtenant.
Given that most landlords put a clause in their tenancy agreements to restrict subletting, it’s probably something you won’t have to deal with, but there’s no harm in knowing the procedure in case the subject comes up.
OVERSEAS TENANTS & BREXIT
Overseas tenants are slightly trickier when it comes to Right to Rent. The best advice is to agree a tenancy in principle, subject to ID checks after your tenants arrive in the UK, which means you can have all the paperwork ready to go for when you receive the necessary immigration documents.
If a prospective overseas tenant has a current immigration application under review, you can ask the Home Office to carry out the Right to Rent check on your behalf.
As things stand today, there are no firm plans from the government in regards to Right to Rent for EU citizens after Brexit, and no indication of whether or when new procedures will be agreed or implemented.
So until we hear otherwise, landlords and letting agents should carry on as now.
It’s one thing knowing how Right to Rent works, but quite another if you ignore it. The repercussions are severe, with a maximum penalty of five years in prison for landlords who willingly rent their property to illegal tenants.
Even if you avoid going to prison, you could receive an unlimited fine for renting a property to someone where you had ‘reasonable cause to believe’ they didn’t have the right to rent in England.
Fines typically depend on the type of accommodation and whether or not it’s your first offence. You can be fined for several reasons, from failing to carry out a check on tenants, to accepting false papers from renters in relation to their status.
If the Home Office suspects you have an illegal tenant, you'll receive a Referral Notice to inform you that you’re being investigated. During that process, you'll need to prove you carried out all the required Right to Rent checks so that, even if it turns out you were given false information, you won't be held responsible.
Right to Rent needs to be taken seriously, but it needn't be a hassle. Yes, it's one more thing to do, but the process of checking documentation is easy enough and gives you comfort that your tenants are qualified to live in the country and at your property. If nothing else, it's added peace of mind that your tenants are exactly who they say they are.