Landlords and lettings agents in Dorset face significant new responsibilities to check the immigration status of prospective tenants, lawyers have warned.
The measures come under the Immigration Act 2014 which received Royal Assent in May and is due to come into force in the Midlands in October before it is rolled out across the UK in 2015.
Battens Solicitors, which has offices in Dorchester, Weymouth and Sherborne, has warned that many landlords and lettings agents may be unaware of the shake-up and urged them to make sure their procedures are updated.
Jacqui Swann, who is an associate of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives in Battens’ specialist property dispute resolution department, said: “Although some landlords and letting agents have heard suggestions of immigration checks being their responsibility in the future, many may not realise that the enforcement of this obligation will soon be a reality.”
She added: ““If a landlord or letting agent fails to carry out the necessary checks or knowingly allows an illegal immigrant to rent their property, they could face a fine of up to £3,000 per illegal adult occupying the property.”
Landlords and letting agents will be obliged to ask potential tenants for evidence of their right to reside in the UK.
Seeing and copying a valid passport may be sufficient. Where this is not possible, further checks will be required. Evidence of the checks will have to be kept for inspection if requested.
Checks will have to be undertaken to confirm that potential tenants are permitted to rent their property before granting a tenancy agreement.
This is an ongoing obligation and when the approved tenant is residing at the property, further checks will be necessary to ensure that the right has not been revoked.
The checks apply to those who rent out residential property including private individuals, businesses and letting agencies.
It will not apply to accommodation provided by an employer to an employee, student accommodation via educational institutions, social housing providers and councils – all are already obliged to carry out sufficient checks in relation to immigration.
Checks are also not required for existing tenants prior to the implementation of the Act and retrospective checks are not necessary.
Jacqui said: “We have contacted our clients to advise them of the significant new responsibilities in the Act and would urge all other landlords and letting agents to ensure they are up to date before the provisions come into force.”
The Home Office is set to introduce a support network for landlords and letting agencies, expected to include an online checking tool, free telephone enquiry service and a code of practice.
An English Housing Survey published by the Department for Communities and Local Government estimated that there were more than 8 million tenants in private and social housing.
The London School of Economics has estimated that there could be as many as 863,000 illegal immigrants in the UK.
Battens offers a complete range of residential and commercial property-related services.
For advice on property matters and for updates on the law changes contact Jacqui Swann at Battens Solicitors on 01935 846254 and Jacqui.firstname.lastname@example.org