The accidental landlord: new Right to Rent rules mean tenants should take their passports to all flat viewings

With the Government's new Right to Rent rules, landlords must check their potential tenants have the right to live and work in the UK or risk being fined up to £3,000 - but tenants haven't heard the news yet. 

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When the Government announced it was going to make landlords responsible for checking that their tenants had a legal right to live in the UK, it was all made to sound so easy, wasn't it? 

Just ask to see their photo ID, said the politicians, take a copy for proof and keep it for a year after the end of the tenancy — that's all. However, as I suspected, it's not quite as straightforward as they made out.

You see, people are used to showing their passport at airports and even when they go to the bank to open an account, but they are not in the habit of taking their passports with them when they view properties.

When I suggested to a dozen or so tenants they should bring some photo ID to a recent viewing, just in case they wanted to make an offer on the property as this would avoid them having to return with their passports later, they all ignored me.

One guy put in an offer as soon as he saw the flat, but as the new Right to Rent rules require me to check a tenant's photo ID in their presence, I was reluctant to start the referencing and credit checks until I had seen his passport.

Unfortunately for him, he had left it in Edinburgh, from where he was in the process of relocating. It would have taken him more than nine hours and cost £150 for him to go back and get it.

£750 a week: in Penywern Road, Earls Court, this fully furnished two-bedroom apartment is available to rent


To save him the expense and trouble, I was tempted to risk processing his application on condition that he showed me his passport on the day he moved in, but what if it turned out he didn't have a right to live in the UK? He would be homeless and I'd have been left without a tenant.

Since the new Right to Rent rules were introduced on February 1, landlords can be fined up to £3,000 if they let a property to illegal immigrants, and repeat offenders face a prison sentence.

This guy said he had a UK passport and he certainly looked and sounded like an eccentric Englishman — scruffy raincoat, creased trousers, scuffed shoes and scarecrow hair — but you never can tell.

I once had a tenant who seemed as English as a cup of tea but when she moved out she told me she was actually from Transylvania, which I had always thought was a mythical home of vampires.

The Government suggests that landlords accepting tenants from abroad can agree the tenancy in principle and do the initial ID check via a video call. 

I was tempted to do the same with this guy in Edinburgh, but then I remembered a fuzzy Skype I'd had with a friend in New Zealand when I couldn't make out if I was looking at her or her labrador, and decided against it.

I suggested he took a picture of the photo page of his passport with his phone and email it to me, but he was worried the message could be hacked. 

Instead, he went to his local post office and got a photocopy of the passport to mail to me. It was bit of a drag for him and meant we had to delay the referencing process until I received the copy in the post, but it was a solution.

To comply with the new Right to Rent rules, I still had to check his passport in person the day he moved in, but at least this way I could confidently proceed with the rest of the referencing process.

We got there in the end, but it was no thanks to the Government.

  • Victoria Whitlock lets four properties in south London. To contact Victoria with your ideas and views, tweet @vicwhitlock

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