The Right to Rent scheme is finally here and after equal parts confusion, disappointment and curiosity among many landlords, it's now a legal obligation for the immigration status of prospective tenants to be checked.
A report released in January by online estate agency Urban.co.uk found that many landlords were still unprepared for Right to Rent, even though it was just weeks away.
Of 5,000 landlords surveyed, 20% thought they had until April 2017 to get ready for the introduction of the scheme, while 3% said they were under the impression they had until 2018.
Despite this, the Government's Immigration Minister, James Brokenshire, said in the same month that many landlords had already been conducting checks and that Right to Rent would be 'straightforward' and 'not require any specialist knowledge'.
Now the scheme is well under way, many landlords will already have incorporated Right to Rent checks into their pre-tenancy process but for those that haven't or those with long-term tenants, we've put together some advice on how to practically carry out the checks...
Four steps to successful checks:
The Home Office recommends that landlords follow four simple steps when carrying out tenant checks:
• Establish which adults will be using the rental property as their only or main home
• Refer to the Home Office's list of acceptable documents and request the relevant documentation from each prospective tenant
• Check the documents are genuine and belong to the tenant, in the presence of the prospective tenants
• Take copies of all checked documents and keep them filed for future reference
What to look out for:
- Are the documents originals?
- Do the documents definitely belong to the tenant in question?
- Are they in date?
- If you have taken more than one document, does the information match up?
- Do the photos on the documents match the identity of the tenant? (This is why checks should be carried out in the presence of tenants)
- Are the documents damaged or do they look like they’ve been changed or tampered with?
- Is there anything suspicious or unfamiliar about the documents provided?
If there's anything you're not sure about, then the best practice is to contact the Home Office and if you're wary that a tenant does not have the right to rent in the UK, then again you can get in touch with the Home Office.
What's more, there are plenty of tools and guidance on the Government website, including a detailed explanation of the checks, an up-to-date code of practice for landlords and an online checking aid which can be used to request a check on a prospective tenant who has an outstanding immigration case with the Home Office.
How to be fair and avoid discrimination:
Some landlords and campaign groups have raised concerns that obligatory Right to Rent checks will see foreign tenants discriminated against. This could occur because in fear of making a mistake and feeling the full force of the law, landlords could solely take applications from British tenants.
In fact, a study by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants found that 42% of landlords said they were unlikely to rent to prospective tenants without British passports, while 25% said they would be less likely to let their property to tenants with foreign 'sounding' names or accents.
However, in order not to break discrimination laws, it's vital that landlords check the immigration status of all prospective tenants.
It's been made clear that landlords who make assumptions based on race or only check the status of certain tenants could find themselves breaching the law and subject to a financial penalty.
Letting agents and HomeLet Verify:
As you may know, landlords are able to defer the responsibility of Right to Rent checks to a letting agent, as long as the request is made in writing.
If you don't feel comfortable carrying out the checks or don't think you'll have time to complete them correctly, then it might be worth deferring to a letting agent to make sure you are complaint with the law.
Here at HomeLet, we've been helping letting agents integrate Right to Rent checks into their existing systems with our HomeLet Verify tool.
HomeLet Verify keeps secure copies of all checked documents and provides information such as visa expiry reminders. We've made a short video which explains how the tool works in a bit more detail.
With many still unsure about or not 100% on what the legislation entails, deferring to a letting agent can be a good way to help ensure that you’re compiling with legislation.