As a private landlord, you need to comply with the law, but also want to make sure that your tenants are likely to pay the rent on time, and that there’s nothing in their past which could invalidate your property’s insurance policy.
To meet these requirements, you need to carry out appropriate background checks on your tenants. This article explains your legal obligations as well as good practice that will give you peace of mind and reduce the likelihood of problems later on.
Confirming your tenant has the right to live in the UK
Under the UK Immigration Act 2016, landlords are legally required to check that any prospective tenants have a ‘right to rent’. This involves asking them for particular documents which will show that they are allowed to live in the UK. Visit the Government portal to find out the current list of acceptable documents.
Make sure you:
- Make and keep copies of the documents submitted.
- Record the date on which you made the check.
You need to check everyone who will live in the house who is 18 or over, whether or not they’re named on the tenancy agreement. This applies even if you’ve decided not to issue a written tenancy agreement.
It’s also worth noting that you need to check all prospective tenants, not just any who you think aren’t British citizens.
Failure to carry out these checks could lead to an unlimited fine or up five years in prison.
Tenant credit record checks
Before you allow someone access to your property, you want to be sure that they’re in a position to pay their rent throughout the duration of their tenancy. This is why most landlords invest in a tenant credit check from a consumer credit reference agency. These organisations will charge you a modest fee for each check they conduct. This is a cost that most landlords consider money well spent as it’s very small compared with even a month’s unpaid rent by a bad tenant.
Credit checks are usually provided within seconds, but you need to get written consent from the tenant to apply for one.
Landlords can get credit information on potential tenants for free by joining Experian’s ‘Rental Exchange’ scheme which handles rent payments from your tenants and in return builds up a richer credit file on them.
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Criminal record checks
There is no legal obligation on private landlords to check whether potential tenants have unspent criminal convictions.
However, many insurance providers require policyholders to notify them if anyone living at the property has a criminal record, so you need to know whether your tenant has an unspent conviction to ensure that your buildings insurance remains valid.
Some insurers will refuse cover if someone with a criminal conviction is living in the property, and others may increase the premium.
How can landlords find out whether a prospective tenant has a criminal conviction?
Start by simply asking them! Most people with an unspent criminal record will be honest about it because they know that they can later be evicted if it emerges that they didn’t tell the truth.
The Government’s Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS), which has replaced the old Criminal Records Bureau, does not supply information directly to landlords. However, you can ask a prospective tenant to get their own ‘basic disclosure certificate’ from Disclosure Scotland (so long as they have a current address anywhere in the UK). This will show whether they currently have any unspent convictions or not.
As there is a small fee for doing this, you need to agree with the applicant in advance whether you’ll reimburse them for this. You might to make a promise to reimburse conditional on the individual becoming your tenant, or make the offer unconditional.
Other types of tenant checks
A number of organisations, such as the National Landlords Association (NLA), also offer tenant checking services which go beyond simple credit checks to include information such as:
- Confirmation of salary or other income.
- References from current and/or previous landlords.
- Alias name search.
- Confirmation of current address.
- County Court Judgement and bankruptcy history.
Insuring your rental property
Once you’ve decided that you will let your property to a particular tenant, don’t forget to let your landlord insurance provider know any relevant details about them including the number of adults and children in the household, the employment status of the main tenant, and whether they’ve been declared bankrupt within a certain period preceding the start of their rental.
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