Last week, the Right To Rent legislation was updated and landlords now face much stricter penalties if they neglect to properly check a tenant’s residency status. Failure to carry out the required immigration checks could result in a prison sentence.

The Right To Rent rules were first delivered in February 2015, and required all landlords and letting agents to carry out immigration checks on prospective tenants before agreeing a tenancy. Initially, there was a fine of £3,000 for anybody who failed to do this.

This month, the rules were changed and significantly harsher penalties announced. In December 2015, the Home Office created four new criminal offences that extend the previous punishments for failing to manage illegal immigrants. Landlords can now be subject to a fine, a five year prison sentence, or both, if they are found to be persistently breaching the rules, or if they fail to evict illegal immigrants from a property. The criminal offences fall under the Proceeds of Crime Act.

The Home Office can now also force landlords to evict tenants if they are not allowed to rent a property in the UK. While the Home Office has emphasised that the penalties are for repeat offenders, any landlord could be prosecuted under the new rules.

Illegal immigrants have no rights to rent, and this could include people who have outstayed a visa or who arrived as an illegal immigrant.

What penalties do landlords face?

Landlords may be prosecuted if they are found to be allowing an adult to occupy a property as their main home, if the said adult does not have the right to reside in the UK. Therefore, landlords will now need to check the passports and visa papers of every person over the age of 18 years who wishes to stay in a property.

The new rules do not apply if a tenant was occupying a property before February 2016, but all new tenants must be fully checked. If the Home Office raises a concern, it is the landlord’s responsibility to evict an illegal immigrant, otherwise they will face prosecution.

Before these changes, landlords were not able to evict illegal immigrants, but they will now be able to do so, and in some cases, will be able to ask them to leave the property without a court order.

The Residential Landlords Association (RLA) says that landlords are normally required to do these checks, but it is possible to pass on the responsibility to a letting agent, as long as there is a written agreement. “This means that the agreement between the landlord and the agent must specifically refer to who is responsible for performing right to rent checks. If the agreement is silent on this, then the landlord will be responsible. Landlords and agents may wish to reconsider their current agreements as a result,” said a RLA spokesman.

David Cox, from the Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA), says that these changes are only welcome if they are used to target landlords who deliberately harbour illegal immigrants in poor quality housing at inflated prices.

All buy-to-let investors need to be aware of these new rules, as without a written agreement in place with an agent to carry out these checks, landlords could face prosecution. Unscrupulous agents who cut corners to save some money could land their landlord clients in deep trouble.

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