November 1

Avoid buy-to-let landlord fines by knowing Right to Rent rules

What buy to let landlords need to check and how

If you’re a buy-to-let landlord who doesn’t know the Right to Rent rules, then you’re not alone. The Residential Landlords Association (RLA) survey in February 2016 found that 90% of buy-to-let landlords had received no information about the Right to Rent and Immigration Checks, which have to be carried out before letting a property.
However, ignorance is no defence in the eyes of the law. If you rent to an immigrant who doesn’t have the right to rent in the UK, then you could find yourself landed with a fine of £3,000. This penalty is levied per occupant. So, let’s say a landlord inadvertently lets to a family of six, who don’t have the right to rent in the UK − your fine will be as much as £18,000 for this mistake.

What is the Right to Rent scheme?

The Right to Rent laws are found in Section 22 of the Immigration Act 2014. The law was brought into effect in the UK on February 1st, 2016 after being trialled in the West Midlands. Right to Rent laws are designed to make it impossible for illegal immigrants to rent property in the UK, as part of the government’s fight against illegal immigration.
Three categories of a right to rent:

  • Most people have an unlimited right to rent
  • Some have a time-limited right to rent
  • Some have no right to rent

Buy-to-let landlords’ Right to Rent responsibilities

If you’re a landlord, you’re responsible for checking your tenant has a legal right to rent before letting your property to them. Check everyone over 18 who will be living in your buy-to-let property.
It doesn’t matter whether or not there is a tenancy agreement. If there is a tenancy agreement, whether or not it is in writing. Neither does it matter if the occupants over 18 have their name on any tenancy agreement.
You also have to check all prospective tenants, not just people you think aren’t British citizens.

What must you check under Right to Rent checks?

As a buy-to-let landlord, you are legally bound to ensure that new tenants have the ‘right to leave or remain in the UK’. It means that the person has permission from the Home Office to be in the UK – either on a permanent or part-time basis.
If your tenant falls into the category of having temporary leave to stay in the UK, you must check during the 28 days before the start of the tenancy.
You’ll need to see evidence of their right to rent. Documentary evidence that is allowable as proof of right to rent includes:

Single documents

  • UK passport
  • EEA passport or ID card
  • Biometric residence permits with indefinite leave
  • UK immigration status document endorsed with unlimited leave
  • British citizenship documentation

Two documents from the following:

  • UK birth certificate
  • UK driving license
  • Letter from the UK local authority
  • Evidence of service in the UK armed forces

This list isn’t exhaustive. You can download the full list and a Right to Rent document checking guide here.

How do you check for Right to Rent?

You must see and check the Right to Rent documentation in front of the prospective tenant. You’ll also need to make a copy of the documents used to evidence their right to rent, record the date you did the check, and keep the copies safely.
The checks you need to make are that:

  • the documents provided to you are the originals;
  • the dates for the right to stay have not expired;
  • photos are of the tenant;
  • dates of birth are consistent across all documents;
  • the documents are not damaged or tampered with; and
  • any name differences confirmed by supporting documentation (such as a marriage certificate).

What if the tenant doesn’t have the right documents?

Here’s where it starts to get even more complicated. If the tenant doesn’t have the proper documentation, you must follow the landlord’s code of practice on illegal immigrants and private rented accommodation.
If you suspect that the prospective tenant does not have the right to rent, then you can report this with confidence by using the immigration crime reporting service.

How often do you have to check Right to Rent?

If the permission to stay in the UK is time-limited, you must repeat the Right to Rent checks as above either:

  • just before your tenant’s right to stay expires; or
  • just before 12 months after your previous check.

If your tenant is no longer legally entitled to rent in the UK, you must report this to the Home Office via its outreach online reporting facility. A fine of £3,000 if you don’t report.

Can someone else do the Right to Rent Check for you?

The good news is that, while you should be familiar with these laws and the rules and regulations surrounding immigration and buy-to-let landlords, you can delegate the responsibility to do these checks. If you use a letting agent or property manager to manage your property, then you can strike an agreement for them to carry out the Right to Rent Checks.
The Right to Rent rules are easy to follow, but frustrating to put into practice. In the two weeks after the laws brought into effect, The RLA’s Policy Director, David Smith, said, “The government argues that its Right to Rent plans form part of a package to make the UK a more hostile environment for illegal immigrants. The evidence shows that it is creating a more hostile environment for good landlords and legitimate tenants.”
As part of our property management services, we offer these checks. Contact us on +44 1522 503 717 to find out more. Discuss our written Right to Rent Checks agreement as part of our property management service agreement.

A word of warning

If you think that these rules enable landlords to discriminate against potential tenants who you think come from abroad, think again. You could find yourself in breach of anti-discrimination laws. An award made for injury to feelings in such a case would be around £6,500.
Apart from which, if you refuse to let to someone purely on the basis that you think they aren’t a UK citizen, you could be turning your back on the best tenant you ever had.
Robert Smith


buy-to-let landlord

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