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From September 2015 landlords across the country may risk £3,000 fines if they fail to check the immigration status of their lodgers or tenants.

The ‘right to rent’ requirements will affect landlords all over England after a West Midlands trial that resulted in at least one landlord being fined almost £2,000. The landlord in question is said to be appealing against the penalty.

Letting agents and landlords in areas including Birmingham, Dudley, Wolverhampton and Walsall, are already required to check the visa status and nationality of tenants. Penalties are issued based upon the number of tenants who are not entitled to rent found to be living at a property.

Too much responsibility?

There has been some criticism of the initiative, which is expected to go country-wide in the autumn, amidst fears that some landlords will not have the knowledge to effectively check tenants’ eligibility to live in Britain. There is also a concern that landlords may cross the line separating immigration compliance from race discrimination, which is against the law.

The changes will also add another level to the administrative burden faced by landlords, who face prosecution if they fail to identify illegal tenants.

Tenants who believe that they have been rejected unfairly by landlords can potentially sue, putting them in line for pay-outs in the region of around £6,600 for an ‘injury to feelings’.

The Government announced the nationwide initiative in May, together with efforts to make it simpler to evict migrants found to be living in Britain illegally. This could involve banks closing current accounts in the name of rogue residents.

Who can rent?

Landlords will now need to ensure that they are aware of who is entitled to rent property in England. Most non-EU citizens need a visa, whilst British nationals and those from Switzerland and the European Economic Area have an automatic right to live in the country.

How to check

In order to avoid penalties, landlords will need to obtain original documents and make sure that they are genuine. They will also need to make a good quality copies of the documents.

If tenants’ visas expire before the end of their rental period, landlords are responsible for ensuring that they have been renewed and for informing the Home Office if a tenant in situ is no longer eligible to live in Britain.

The rules do not apply to tenants renting second homes or holiday lets, or to tenancy agreements that were established prior to December 2014. Nor do they apply to any renewals if there have been no changes in the tenancy.