All governments promise to make our lives simpler by streamlining legal requirements and making our lives easier by reducing “red tape”. The current government seems to have forgotten that particular promise when we consider some of the recent rules relating to what is known as the “right to rent”.
DUTIES, PENALTIES, STATUTORY EXCUSES
There are new rules requiring a landlord to ensure that any prospective tenant or occupant in a private rented property has the right to rent it in the UK. The principal purpose of these new rules seems to be to impose upon landlords obligations which the immigration controls have failed to carry out. Such is the seriousness of the problem that a landlord must make the required checks and retain copies of documents that a tenant has produced to earn himself a “statutory excuse” to avoid a penalty for letting to an illegal migrant. Unlawful discrimination must of course be avoided and the landlord or his agent must apply the right to rent checks so as to be fair to a prospective tenant irrespective of whether they believe that person to be British settled or a person with a limited permission to be in the UK. Fines can be up to £3,000.
BEGIN WITH “ACCEPTABLE DOCUMENTS”
It is imposed upon the landlord to first obtain a tenant’s original “acceptable documents” that allow the tenant to live in the UK. Then to check such documents with the tenant present and keep dated copies on a file.
There are all sorts of possible scenarios relating to the documentation that must be produced, of which the following is a brief description:-
1. Single documents which show an unlimited right to rent – there are several of these including a UK passport, a European Economic Area/Swiss National/Identity Card, a biometric residence permit with unlimited leave, and a certificate of naturalisation or registration as a British citizen – amongst others.
2. If the tenant does not have one of the acceptable single documents, then the landlord has to check the list of acceptable document combinations, where any two of the list can be accepted, including a UK birth or adoption certificate plus full or provisional UK driving licence, or plus benefits paperwork, a letter from a police force confirming certain documents have been reported stolen. There are some 13 possibilities for combination to achieve the required proof.
3. The next set of documents is those which show a time-limited right to rent, for example a valid passport endorsed with a time-limited period, a UK immigration status document with a time-limited endorsement from the Home Office. These complex possibilities really must be checked against information that is available from Government publications, which will also find details of the pages of each of the relevant documents that must be copied and checked.
IDENTIFICATION OF TENANT
In addition to looking at these various documents, the landlord is supposed to try and decide that the photograph is a true likeness of the holder and that the date of birth on the document should be believable and consistent with any other document where date of birth is disclosed. The landlord is supposed to be able to identify if the document has been tampered with and of course if there is an expiry date, but there are exceptions to that requirement in order to qualify the landlord for a “statutory excuse”, the detail of which is far too great to explain in this article.
HOME OFFICE GUIDE
The Home Office has produced a helpful user guide dated February this year, which runs to 39 pages and which deals with each combination of documents required, what to look out for, and how to make sure that you are protected by one of the “statutory excuses”. There are also model letters for the provision of information, including a frequently asked questions section to help a landlord where, for example:-
* A prospective tenant is a student coming to the UK wishing to arrange his tenancy from his country of origin;
* Someone who covers their face for reasons of belief, and how to deal with an identify check in that situation.
The possibilities seem to be endless and the imposition of duty on a landlord be very considerable, and in effect to be a second line of defence against illegal immigrants where the first line, at airports, ports or international railways stations has failed.
The document can be found at www.gov.uk/right-to-rent-document-checks-a-user-guide.
Interestingly, the Times reported on 11 May the outcome of a Council of Europe anti-discrimination committee meeting report of 10 May. It recommended that housing officers, teachers, GPs and other officials should not report illegal immigrants to the Home Office when they come across them. It says these proposals are essential in the fight against discrimination. It recommends a guaranteed right to healthcare, the education of the children, and a ban on sharing information with immigration authorities. The Home Office has stuck to its guns and has gone on record to say “The Home Office would not accept or support any recommendation which would bar public officials or private sector providers from reporting suspected illegal immigrants”.
TENANCY TO BE GRANTED
Once your tenant has passed the various tests it is worth remembering the impositions on a landlord relating to the grant of an assured shorthold tenancy, including for example the length of the term, which can be between 6 months and 7 years – whether there is to be a deposit payable by the tenant, and the statutory protection that has to be complied with to safeguard that deposit, the rules and regulations to be imposed to control tenants on such topics as children, smoking, keeping pets, responsibility for utility bills and council tax, the provision of smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors where appropriate, and keeping a record of the condition of the premises at the beginning of the tenancy so that a valid claim can be made for reduction from the deposit in the event of damage at the end.
PRINTED GUIDE TO BE HANDED TO TENANT
A landlord must provide a tenant with the Government booklet “How to Rent: The Checklist for Renting in England”, either via a link or as a printed copy – did you know that? He must also provide a gas safety certificate each year where there is a gas installation, and an energy performance certificate, as well as relevant deposit paperwork, and electrical inspections which are to be made a 5 yearly intervals.
STAMP DUTY HIKE
Apart from this infinite length of new red tape, the Government have chosen to rock the second home market where owners may wish to let such properties out, or indeed just to keep them for their own use and occupation, with a whopping Stamp Duty Land Tax increase. For example, if you are going to buy a second home freehold which is not to replace your existing home, Stamp Duty has increased on a value of £250,000 from £2,500 to £10,000, and on a house valued at £350,000 from £7,500 to £18,000. What effect this will have on the letting market in the long-term remains to be seen.
For help on any property matter requiring legal help, do get in touch with us here at Busbys on 01288 35 9000.
Bude & Holsworthy