16 January 2017
Criminal sanctions for residential landlords who breach the right to rent scheme that came into force on 1 December 2016.
Under Sections 39-41 of the Immigration Act 2016, residential landlords will commit a criminal offence if:-
- Premises are occupied by an adult who is disqualified from occupying premises under a residential tenancy agreement due to their immigration status; and
- The landlord knows or has reasonable cause to believe that the premises are occupied by an adult who is disqualified from occupying premises under a residential tenancy agreement.
Agents will commit a criminal offence if they know that an offence is being committed but fail to notify the landlord.
The offence carries a penalty of up to five years in prison and/or an unlimited fine.
The new sanctions are aimed at serious offenders who deliberately flout the rules, however, landlords and agents should do all they can to avoid sanctions being imposed.
Landlords will have a defence if they can show that they took all reasonable steps to end a residential tenancy within a reasonable period of time from knowing or having reasonable cause to believe that the tenant or occupier did not have the right to rent. Home Office guidance suggests that a “reasonable period” would be within four weeks.
To avoid liability, landlords should:-
- Carry out a thorough right to rent document check before entering into a residential tenancy agreement or allowing a person into occupation;
- If the tenant or occupant’s right to remain is time-limited, make a note of the date when it is due to expire and carry out follow-up checks;
- If the follow-up checks show that the tenant or occupant no longer has the right to remain in the UK, take steps to end the tenancy within four weeks; and
- Make a report to the Home Office.
The new regime also applies to landlords who purchase or inherit property with an occupational tenant in place.
The good news is that the government has introduced legislation which is specifically aimed at making it easier for landlords to terminate tenancies in these circumstances.
If you are worried that you may have a tenant who could be disqualified from renting or if you need to know how to go about terminating a tenancy in these circumstances you should seek immediate legal advice.