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New criminal offences for UK landlords over right to rent immigration checks

Controversial Right to Rent legislation in the UK has been upgraded from today with the introduction of tougher penalties for landlords and letting agents, including prison, if they fail to carry out immigration checks.

The Right to Rent rules were introduced in February this year requiring all landlords or their letting agents to make immigration checks before letting a property with a fine of £3,000 for failing to do so.

Now from 01 December there is a new set of penalties. New provisions set out by the Home Office have created four new criminal offences that extend the potential punishments to include a fine, up to five years in prison or both for persistent breaches or failure to take steps to remove illegal migrants from a property under the Proceeds of Crime Act.

The Home Secretary can also force landlords to evict tenants within a reasonable period if they have no right to rent in the UK. The Home Office has previously stressed that prosecutions will be targeted at repeat offenders but the pressure is on landlords and agents to be seen to be doing the checks.

Those who do not have the right to rent would be illegal immigrants. These might be people who have had a visa to stay in the UK but it has run out and they are illegally continuing to be in the country or people who have arrived as illegal immigrants.

Landlords must not authorise an adult to occupy a property as their main home unless they can establish the adult has a right to reside in the UK. This means landlords must check the identification of everyone who is over 18 and expected to occupy the property.

Under the new rules landlords and letting agents do not have to check the status of a tenant in place before February 2016, only new tenants, but if they receive a notice from the Home Office informing them that a current occupier or occupiers, are disqualified from letting a property, they must take reasonable steps to evict them or face prosecution.

Landlords have been unable to evict an illegal immigrant but the new regulations should make it easier to do so by providing additional grounds for possession and, in some cases, evicting an illegal immigrant without a court order.

The Residential Landlords Association (RLA) has pointed out that a landlord would normally be responsible for these checks but they can pass on the obligation to their letting agent as part of 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.

According to David Cox, managing director of the Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA) the new offences for landlords and agents will only be welcome if they achieve the central aim of prosecuting and fining criminal landlords, most often those who are supplying substandard accommodation at inflated rents on the peripheries of society’s radar.

‘Enforcement is absolutely fundamental to this and sufficient resource must be devoted to following up applications to the landlord checking service which are refused, and ensuring that properties occupied by over stayers can be made available again as soon as possible,’ he said.