For many residential landlords, ensuring compliance with the right to rent provisions may have slipped down the list of priorities. Unlike other tasks – provision of EPCs, gas safety checks, securing tenancy deposits correctly etc - that have to be complied with at the commencement of the tenancy, a failure to carry out the right to rent checks will not prevent a valid section 21 notice being served. However, with this week’s announcements from the Government about the increase in fines for landlords who are found to be renting to those who lack the necessary immigration status to occupy a home, now seems like a sensible time for landlord to review their processes.
What is the ‘right to rent?’
Since 1 February 2016, private residential landlords have been required to check that any tenant or any other individual over 18 (to that catches family members who are living with a named tenant, licensees and lodgers) has the requisite ‘right to rent’ a property in England. Guidance as to how to carry out these checks and what is and is not acceptable as proof of the right to rent has been given by the Government. Importantly, landlords have to make copies of the documents you are provided with, and those documents have to be retained for 1 year after the tenancy ends.
Importantly, landlords need to carry out checks on all adult occupants, even if the individuals appear to be British citizens.
The current penalties
The law as it currently stands is already robust. Landlords can face civil penalties (up to £1000 per disqualified person for a first offence, up to £3000 per disqualified person if the landlord has previously been fined) if compliance with the right to rent provisions cannot be demonstrated. In serious cases, where a landlord is knew or had ‘reasonable cause to believe’ that an occupier did not have the right to rent in the UK, the landlord can face imprisonment.
The new penalties
As part of wider proposals to tackle illegal immigration, the Government have announced plans to substantially increase the financial penalties for landlords who are found to be in breach of the right to rent provisions. From 2024, the penalties will be increasing. Landlord will face fines of up to £10,000 for a first offence, and up to £20,000 in cases where there have been previous fines handed to the landlord.
Landlords (and letting agents) may, understandably, be alarmed to hear this. However, one of the criticisms of the legislation has been that it has not been well policed. The Home Office have not had the resources to check that landlords are complying with their right to rent obligations and so penalties and prosecutions have, historically, been low.
Will the increased penalties therefore come with an increased focus on landlords by Home Official officials? It remains to be seen. But the best advice to landlords (and to letting agents) is not to take the risk and simply make sure the right to rent checks are added to the ‘to do’ list whenever a new tenancy is to be commenced.
How can Tozers help?
For further help or information about anything mentioned in this article, or to talk to one of our dedicated team, please contact us.