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Landlords will find even more pressure being placed on them from next month when they will be required to check the legal status of potential tenants – or risk a substantial fine.

Landlords of private residential homes will have to carry out checks on everyone aged 18 or over who lives in the property as their principal residence. This may be difficult to prove in some instances as it includes house guests, lodgers and sub-tenants.

The Government will require that landlords check any tenancies which started from December 1, 2014, onwards. This also applies to landlords who bought a property with existing tenants if a check has not already been made.

The Right to Rent policy comes into force in England on February 1 when the onus will be on landlords to check the immigration status of any prospective tenants.

Richard Lambert, National Landlords Association chief executive, stressed the need for landlords to familiarise themselves with the scheme so that they do not fall foul of the law in February. Those who fail to comply with the law could face jail.

If landlords rent their property to someone who is not legally allowed to live or stay in the UK, they could also face a fine of up to £3,000.

The three main things to remember are:

1. Obtain original versions of the acceptable documents;
2. Check that each is valid while the tenant is present; and
3. Make a copy with a record of the date when the check was carried out.

Valid documents include a passport from a British citizen or a citizen with the right of abode in the UK; a passport or national ID card from an EEA or Swiss national; or a Home Office certificate or document showing the holder has permanent residency or indefinite leave to remain.

The headache for landlords is that there is a long list of acceptable documents, which can be viewed on the Gov.UK website, and that the documents may of course be forged or used by imposters. Landlords are advised to check the documents carefully but they still run the risk of getting into trouble and facing a civil penalty if it is ‘reasonably apparent’ that the document is a forgery. The difficulty will be in the interpretation of ‘reasonably apparent’.

If you use a letting agent, they can carry out the Right to Rent check for you.