What is the right to rent check?
The new rules will mean that landlords will only be able to rent properties to individuals who can provide a copy of their visa demonstrating they have the right to live in the UK. This will be a similar process to the checks employers are obliged to carry out when someone begins work and a similar list of acceptable documents has been published.
Any landlord that does not carry out the check, or does not carry it out correctly, could be fined by the Home Office. Therefore landlords are likely to abide by the list of acceptable documents strictly.
The new rules will only apply to new tenancies as existing tenancies will be excluded from the checks.
How will this impact expat tenancies?
The major impact on expat tenancies is that assignees from abroad will not be able to rent property in their own name until they have been issued with their visa. On a practical level, if landlords are concerned about the possibility of a fine, they may not agree to a tenancy until the person has arrived in the UK and collected a copy of their biometric card.
The right to rent check provisions have been drafted widely so that a landlord must carry out a check on anyone who intends to occupy the property, and therefore the checks will apply to corporate tenancies as well.
There are also likely to be more changes to the law in the coming months which will further impact on tenancies. The Immigration Bill 2015, which is currently before Parliament, will give landlords the power to terminate tenancies where someone cannot provide evidence of their right to live in the UK. This could be a particular issue when an assignee applies for a visa extension but does not receive an acknowledgement letter until after their visa expires. Legally, they will have the right to remain but it may be difficult to provide evidence of this to their landlord. The Government has introduced a checking service for landlords; however our experience of a similar service for employers is that it can take 3 - 4 weeks, after an application has been submitted, for the Home Office records to be updated and this can lead to inaccurate results.
What steps can be taken to protect assignees?
Gordon Kerr has previously blogged about some of the additional protections available where a tenancy is taken out in the name of the assignee rather than a company. However these changes mean that it will be harder to do this prior to someone arriving in the UK.
Once someone is in the UK, it will be important for assignees to keep their landlord updated in relation to their visa status and when extension applications are being submitted. Visa extension applications should be submitted in good time to ensure that there is plenty of time to obtain the necessary documents to allow an assignee to remain in their home during the visa process.
If you have any questions regarding expat tenancies or immigration checks for landlords please contact Gordon Kerr or Stuart McWilliams.
Our immigration team is ranked as number 1 in Scotland by both the Legal 500 and Chambers and Partners. We are specialists in business immigration matters and have been shortlisted as the Immigration Provider of the Year by the Forum for Expatriate Management in both 2014 and 2015.
Stuart McWilliams is listed as Chambers and Partners' Star Associate for Immigration and has been shortlisted as the Global Mobility Rising Star 2015 by the Forum for Expatriate Management.