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Right to RentThe new amendments to the Immigration Act 2014 brought in very strict rules from 1 February 2016 concerning a tenant or lodger’s right to rent and statutory obligations now applicable to landlords or agents to check their prospective tenant or lodger’s right to rent.

Failure to comply with these rules renders the landlord or agent liable to a financial penalty of up to £3000 and repeated violations can result in a criminal conviction. There is an appeal procedure against penalties imposed by the Secretary of State to the Court, but there are strict time limits for appeals and failure to comply with the time limits can render the appeal defective.

The rules apply to a person even lodging or sharing a room or facilities in a house and therefore these rules apply even to informal arrangements under licence.

The starting point is that the prospective tenant or lodger must be a British citizen or national of a European Economic State or a Swiss national. The prospective tenant or lodger must also have the right to rent and there is none if the prospective tenant or lodger requires leave to remain or enter the United Kingdom or his leave to enter or remain is subject to a condition preventing him from occupying rented property. So potentially, any nationals outside these categories do not have an automatic right to rent and need to show confirmation that they have permission to enter and remain in the United Kingdom and have this right. The rules can also apply to someone who initially has the right but loses that right subsequently.

Generally speaking to prevent any penalty the landlord or agent has to comply with prescribed requirements and these involve checking a list of documents and ensuring that the prescribed documents are checked. There is a long list of documents such as, for example, a passport or other document from the Immigration Office confirming the right of abode. The Landlord Checking Service (LCS), recently established, provide a service of checking the right to rent. Once contacted, if the LCS do not respond within 48 hours the prospective tenant or lodger is deemed to have the right.

Landlords can pass on the responsibility if they have instructed an agent and the agent then has to comply with the Prescribed Requirements.

There are also detailed regulations with regard to avoiding discrimination in applying the Regulations.

It seems that the Government is passing on the responsibility for immigration checks to private landlords or their agents and landlords have now turned into the “final frontier” for UK Border Control. This may not be a burden to a large landlord, but small landlords are at considerable risk and need to keep a very careful audit trail. The extra costs of complying with these Regulations need to be factored in to the financial equation and a buy to let landlord starting a buy to let business could find these regulations costly and extremely complex to manage, as immigration law is complex enough even for those legally qualified.

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