After a trial in the West Midlands, the “right to rent” requirements are due to roll out across England in the next few months. The new laws rule that landlords will be responsible for checking the immigration status of all their tenants, or face fines of up to £3,000. Come September, landlords will be required to obtain original citizenship documents, confirm authenticity and make official copies. If visas are due to expire during the tenancy landlords will be responsible for ensuring that documents are renewed.
To assist landlords The Home Office provides a free Landlords Checking Service. This lists valid documents that can be used to confirm legal living status. Landlords lacking the time or understanding to complete checks themselves can use third party immigration check companies that track down documents and accept legal responsibility for confirming statuses.
The scheme was first rolled out in December throughout the West Midlands district. Both landlords and letting agents managing properties in cities such as Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Walsall and Dudley were legally required to check the nationality and visa validities of their tenants. During the trial period a fine of almost £2,000 was issued to a landlord who failed to comply.
While some have hailed the new scheme, others have criticised it for the unnecessary burden it places on landlords. As well as lacking the necessary knowledge to carry out immigration checks critics are also concerned that it could fuel racial discrimination in the rental market. Anne-Marie Balfour, a lawyer at Charles Russell Speechlys warns that “Landlords need to tread a fine line between immigration compliance and avoiding race discrimination.” If they fail to treat tenants with equality they could be sued under the 2010 Equality Act which could result in fines of up to £6,600.
Phil Stewardson, a West Midland property magnate accuses the government of using landlords as a form of free border control. He maintains that “If trained immigration officers can’t detect these people at ports and airports with their resources, how are we supposed to? We’re effectively providing immigration with a free workforce.”
It’s a controversial topic and has highlighted the absolute importance of staying on top of legal requirements when managing a rental property. Landlords wanting to enjoy the total peace of mind that their investments are protected should take out a comprehensive landlords insurance policy designed to safeguard against the costs of repairs, reconstructions, fire, floods and other unexpected incidents.