Landlords and letting agents need to make sure they’re on top of the new set of amendments to the Immigration Act which came into effect at the beginning of December.
The penalty for letting to illegal migrants has been toughened. Previously this was a civil offence, but it’s now become a criminal offence, which means the fines are potentially higher and there is even a possibility, in the worst cases, of a prison sentence.
The vast majority of letting agents and landlords will be unaffected by these particular changes, but there are a few other amendments in the area of evictions that they ought to be aware of.
Who Has the Right to Rent?
These new regulations revolve around the right to rent and the Home Office identifying people who are in the country illegally and therefore do not have the right to rent property. If the Secretary of State has given them permission to take up the tenancy, that’s okay, otherwise the Home Office refers to these people as “disqualified” from renting and they are basically those who:
• Need permission to enter or stay in the UK but don’t have it
• Do have leave to stay but are subject to a condition saying that they can’t occupy the dwelling they are currently occupying
Agents and landlords already have to check tenants’ documentation to make sure they are here legally. Remember to check all of the tenants – you’re not allowed to pick out individuals you have suspicions about. You need to make copies of the documents and to keep them for a year after the tenancy ends.
There’s been some grumbling from landlords about the fact that they are not experts at document authentication. How are they supposed to know whether a passport is genuine or not, unless it’s a really obvious fake? There’s no answer to that, so it’s a case of doing the best you can.
1. If none of your tenants has a legal right to rent
If none of the adult tenants has the right to rent and the Secretary of State notifies the landlord of their identity, the landlord can give the tenants 28 days notice provided that the notice is correctly worded and formatted. This notice can only be used where the Home Office has given the landlord notification that all of the occupiers are disqualified from renting and not in any other circumstances.
You can use this notice even if the tenancy started before the changes to the legislation came in. If it is properly served with the accompanying Home Office list of tenants, then the landlord can repossess the property without any recourse to the High Court – the notice itself is like a High Court order. See here for more information: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/
You can serve the notice by delivering it in person to the tenants, sending it through the post, leaving it at the property and so on. The Protection from Eviction Act won’t apply to tenants who are identified as having no right to rent.
2. Some have the right, some don’t
A much more common situation will be that a group of tenants are renting a house, and while some of them have the right to rent, others don’t. Again, the landlord has to have a written notice identifying the disqualified tenant, and this must come from the Secretary of State (i.e. the Home Office).
It now begins to get a lot more complicated, and any landlord in North Manchester would do well at this stage to talk to their letting agent who will be able to give professional advice or point them in the right direction.
Also be aware that the landlord has to take action within a reasonable period. Currently we are waiting for guidance on what that actually means, but a period of four weeks has been mentioned.
Landlords Have Trouble Keeping up with the Changes
The fact that these changes have happened and yet most members of the general public are unaware of them shows just how difficult it is, particularly for smaller landlords, to keep up with the constant amendments to legislation. One law is changed, and because of the complexity of the legal framework that governs housing, another law is amended in consequence.
It’s not surprising that landlords need to use letting agents. An individual landlord would be really hard pushed to keep up with these constant changes.