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What do I need to know about right to rent?

As a private landlord, there does seem to be an ever-increasing amount of red tape for you to cope with. And with red tape comes paperwork. The right to rent is a case in point. But, as much as it may be inconvenient, it is essential you comply with the right to rent rules. Here's what you need to know.

What is Right to Rent?

It's basically a check on the immigration status of tenants and whether they have a legal right to rent a property in England. It's likely private landlords in the rest of the UK will also need to carry out right to rent checks shortly.

As a private landlord, you must check the right to rent status of your tenant and of any other person over the age of 18 who will be staying in the property. This isn't optional. You must carry out the checks to comply with the law.

It is worth saying that if you rent your property to someone who does not have the legal right to be in the country you could face a very large fine. Even imprisonment. And you must check all tenants. You must do right to rent checks before every new tenancy. 

How to check your tenants

It's a four-step process. But it does put what some would say is unnecessary pressure on private landlords. After all, you aren't an immigration officer.

But you do need to show you have gone through the process should there be any problems further down the line.

  1. Ask your tenants for documents which prove they are legally entitled to live in the UK. You must see original documents. Do not accept photocopies. Click here for a list of acceptable documents.
  2. Check the documents prove the tenant is eligible to live in the UK. Pay special attention to dates. Make sure you look closely at photos. Make sure the same name is used on all the documents.
  3. Check that the documents are genuine and not forgeries. Use your best judgement here.
  4. Make copies of all the documents. Make sure you date them. You must keep these copies in a safe place. You need to retain the documents during the tenancy and for 12 months after the tenancy has ended.

Your tenant must be present during these checks.

If you are using a letting agent they can do these checks for you. But you must have a written agreement. If not you could be held responsible should the checks not be done correctly.

What happens next?

In 99% of cases, you'll be happy and your tenant can move into the property. But if the tenant can't produce the right documents things get a little more complicated.

There are three valid reasons why a tenant may not have the correct documents:

  • The documents are with the Home Office.
  • They have received 'permission to rent' from the Home Office.
  • The tenant has an appeal lodged with the Home Office.

If the tenant claims any of the above you must verify their claim. You do this by using the landlords checking service. The tenant will need to provide you with a Home Office reference number.

The Home Office will respond to you within 48 hours.

You can also get help with carrying out a right to rent check by ringing the landlords' helpline on 0300 069 9799.

Follow up checks

If your tenant only has a limited time to stay in the UK you must carry out follow up checks. This should be done after 12 months or when their permission to remain in the UK (according to the documents you hold) lapses.

If you discover the tenant no longer has a legal right to rent you must inform the Home Office.

Brief recap

  • As a private landlord, you are legally obliged to carry out right to rent checks.
  • You must check every tenant. You must not discriminate.
  • Check the tenant's documents ensuring they are genuine.
  • Make copies. Date them in the presence of the tenant and retain them.
  • Do follow up checks.
  • Failure to carry out right to rent checks can lead to large fines or a prison sentence.

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