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IMMIGRATION - Can a non-resident rent property in the UK?

Published:Tuesday | January 20, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Dear Mr Bassie, I am presently in the United Kingdom with a visa and I am thinking of renting a property. I am being told that there is a policy that does not allow non-residents to rent properties. Is this true?

I hope you can help me.

- F.W.

Dear F.W.,

There is a policy with respect to the private renting of accommodation to unqualified immigrants and there are possible penalties that a landlord or an agent may incur through the Civil Penalty Scheme.

As of October 2014, a code of practice with respect to illegal immigrants and private rented accommodation has been instituted. Under Section 22 of the Immigration Act 2014, a landlord ought not to give authorisation to an adult to occupy a property as his or her only or main home under a residential tenancy agreement unless that person is a British citizen, or European Economic Area (EEA) or Swiss national, or has a right to rent in the United Kingdom.

A person will have the 'right to rent' in the United Kingdom provided he or she is lawfully present in accordance with immigration laws. Any landlord and/or agent who is in breach of Section 22 may be liable for a civil penalty. In this code, the restriction and civil penalty provisions are referred to as 'the scheme'.

The British authorities state that the purpose of the scheme is to ensure that illegal immigrants are unable to establish a settled life in the United Kingdom, and this would include restricting access to private sector-rented accommodation. However, there are certain residential tenancy agreements that are excluded from the scheme.

A landlord and/or agent may be able to establish a statutory excuse against liability for a civil penalty by conducting a simple document check before allowing adults to occupy rented accommodation. This is in an effort to ensure that prospective occupiers have the right to rent in the United Kingdom. A landlord and/or agent should not rent property for use by an adult who is not a British, EEA or Swiss national, or who does not have the right to rent. Where a landlord lets accommodation to a person with a time-limited right to rent, he or she can maintain an excuse against a penalty by conducting follow-up checks as prescribed by the British authorities.

If such follow-up checks indicate that the person no longer has the right to rent or to maintain his or her excuse, the landlord and/or agent can make a report to the Home Office as soon as reasonably practicable and before the expiry of an existing statutory excuse. A landlord and/or agent will need to keep records of the checks that he or she has undertaken for those people who will occupy their accommodation.

Also, landlords have the option to appoint an agent to act on their behalf. Where an agent has accepted responsibility for compliance with the scheme, the agent will be the liable party in place of the landlord. This code is applicable to residential tenancy agreements that are granted in relation to property located in an area where the scheme has been implemented. The British authorities have stated that the scheme will be implemented on a phased geographical basis, and will apply to residential tenancy agreements that have been entered on or after the date of implementation for that particular area.

I hope this helps.

John S. Bassie is a barrister/attorney-at-law who practises law in Jamaica. He is a justice of the peace, a Supreme Court-appointed mediator, a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, a chartered arbitrator and a member of the Immigration Law Practitioners Association (UK).