Since 1 February 2016, all private landlords in England are obliged to review the immigration status of an incoming tenant or occupier prior to renting out their property, thereby establishing the tenant’s legal right to be in the UK and therefore their right to rent. This rule does not yet apply to tenancies in Wales.

Landlords may pass the onus of these checks to their letting agent and this should be made clear within a written agreement between both parties.

Checks must be carried out within a period of 28 days prior to the start of any tenancy agreement where the proposed tenant or occupier is renting the property as their only or main residence.

The process is relatively straight forward and is supported by both a helpline and online aid for landlords, agents and prospective tenants seeking further information. In the majority of cases, landlords can carry out the checks themselves by reviewing and retaining copies of documentation evidencing the tenant’s permanent or time-limited right to rent. A list of acceptable documentation is available from the Home Office, and by way of example, includes a passport or residence permit.

Landlords are protected for a period of 12 months from the date of check and therefore routine checks must be carried out where a tenancy lasts for longer than one year. Appropriate follow-up checks should also be carried out where the tenant or occupier has a limited right to reside in the UK or where there is a change of any occupier at the property.

In more complex cases where a tenant has an outstanding immigration application or appeal with the Home Office, landlords can request the Home Office to conduct a check with a simple ‘yes/no’ response aimed to be provided within two days. The validity of a ‘yes’ response would run for 12 months allowing the landlord to rent for this period with a repeat check to be conducted on expiry of the term.

This scheme forms part of the Immigration Act 2014 and introduces new sanctions on illegal immigration. Landlords should be aware that if a tenant is found to be residing illegally in the UK resulting from a failure to carry out the necessary checks, a penalty of up to £3,000 per tenant may be imposed upon the landlord. In addition, from 1 December 2016, criminal sanctions may apply where a landlord has knowledge of or should have reasonable cause to believe that their tenant or occupier does not have a legal right to reside in the UK.

Tenants complying with conditions placed on them may be exempt from the scheme and landlords would be advised to seek written confirmation to this effect from the Home Office prior to renting out their property.