Four months — that’s all it has been since the Government decided to make landlords responsible for checking the immigration status of their tenants, and already I have almost fallen foul of the law.
Since February 1, landlords have been obliged to carry out so-called “Right to Rent” checks on tenants to make sure that they aren’t living in the UK illegally. This means checking their passport or some other acceptable form of photo ID, and any visa if required.
Landlords who are found to be letting to illegal immigrants and who haven’t run the right checks can be fined up to £3,000. In theory it shouldn’t be too difficult to check a tenant’s ID before they move into a property. But what do you do if that tenant starts subletting to a stranger behind your back?
I found out last month that a girl who took a room in one of my flats had left and allowed a friend to move in without letting me know, so I hadn’t been able to check the friend’s immigration status.
I was livid at my tenant’s sneakiness, especially as I had explained to her when she asked to transfer her tenancy that I would need to vet her friend to make sure she was suitable. However, my immediate concern was that I might have accidentally ended up with an illegal immigrant living in my property and I would be fined for having failed to carry out the Right to Rent checks.
As my previous tenant had told me nothing about her friend, I didn’t know whether she was British, an EU citizen or a resident of Mars but anyway, it didn’t matter, the law states that a landlord has to see photo ID of every adult living in their property, even those who aren’t on the tenancy agreement and even if they are not paying rent. In this instance, I had a feeling that as my tenant had sublet her room, and her friend was paying rent to her, not to me, the responsibility for carrying out the Right to Rent checks fell on her shoulders, not mine.
However, I wasn’t 100 per cent sure and the thought of a £3,000 fine was freaking me out. Now, you are probably thinking, why didn’t I just check her passport? That would have been the sensible thing to do — but it was easier said than done.
Of course, as soon as I got wind of what had happened I tried to contact my tenant to request her friend’s ID, but she ignored my emails. Only after I ran out of patience and sent a stroppy email threatening legal action did she finally send me contact details for the subtenant, who then also ignored my messages. Once again, I had to threaten her with eviction proceedings to get a reaction. Why does everything have to be so damned difficult?
It turned out she was British, but didn’t have a passport to prove it. Eventually, she brought me her driver’s licence and her birth certificate, which are acceptable alternatives.
At last, I could sleep easily again, but the burden of carrying out immigration checks is only going to get greater for landlords, especially if Britain votes to leave the European Union. If EU citizens no longer have an automatic right to live here, landlords will presumably have to check that every European has a visa.
Over the past 10 years I have let to heaps of foreigners, including a couple of Spaniards, eight Greeks, three Italians, one Hungarian, one Bulgarian and three French. My heart sinks at the thought of all those visas I might have to check if the Brexit camp wins the day.
Victoria Whitlock lets four properties in south London. To contact Victoria with your ideas and views, tweet @vicwhitlock