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When everyone has a home

028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

ADVISER: Challenging decision that applicant is intentionally homeless due to rent arrears

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Leanne, a recently separated mother of three, contacted Housing Rights for help in January of this year. Leanne had been renting a private tenancy, but was asked to leave this property when the fixed term ended. At that point, she had approached the Housing Executive for help as a homeless person in priority need, and NIHE placed her in a single let while they investigated her circumstances to see if she passed all four tests for homelessness. Early in January, Leanne received a call from a housing officer at NIHE advising that she would need to leave her temporary accommodation in the coming weeks because the Housing Executive had determined that she was intentionally homeless.

Intentionally homeless

The Housing Executive only has a responsibility to provide housing to those people who are homeless through no fault of their own. The Housing (NI) Order 1988 explains the situation when a person can be found to be intentionally homeless and this includes where a person deliberately fails to do something and becomes homeless as a consequence. After speaking with Leanne’s former landlord, the Housing Executive believed that the landlord has ended Leanne’s tenancy because she had refused to pay rent.

Our helpline adviser Maeve explained this to Leanne, who then said that she strongly believed the notice to quit was the landlord’s response to her ongoing complaints about poor conditions in the property. Leanne believed that the landlord was unhappy that she had regularly reported problems in the property and that the council had inspected the property and advised the landlord to carry out repairs.

Leanne said that she did not owe the landlord any rent. She acknowledged that she hadn’t paid the final month’s rent, but said this was because she was worried that the landlord would keep her deposit. As the deposit hadn’t been protected, and she had never been given a rent book with her landlord’s address, she knew that she would have difficulty reclaiming this money if it was unfairly kept and so decided to tell the landlord to use it to cover the final month’s rent.

First steps

Leanne’s case was passed to our adviser Karen, who contacted NIHE to explain that Housing Rights would be helping Leanne to submit a review. Karen requested a copy of the decision on Leanne’s homelessness application and asked that NIHE continue to provide temporary accommodation to the family pending the outcome of this review. The housing officer told Karen that a formal decision had not yet been made on this case, and that additional information had come to light which was now under consideration. However, a few weeks later client received letter stating that she was found to be intentionally homeless because her landlord’s decision to issue notice to quit was motivated by her rent arrears and poor payment history.

Disrepair

Karen wanted to get a good picture of the history of Leanne’s tenancy, so asked Leanne to give her as much information as possible about the problems in the property and any communication she had with the landlord or agent about these issues.

Leanne provided a comprehensive list of emails and texts sent to the agent going back to the very start of the tenancy. The council’s visit had been triggered by complaints from Leanne’s neighbours who were worried about fumes emanating from the property’s boiler. When the council visited, officer expressed concerns about the condition of the boiler and oil tank and about potentially dangerous electrical wiring in the property. Aside from these issues, Leanne had also reported other problems, including extensive mould, cracks in the sanitary ware in the bathroom, missing door handles and collapsed guttering.

The emails from the agent committed to carrying out repairs but little remedial work was completed. Leanne also told Karen that the property was without a working heating system for 7 months during the tenancy and that she received constant assurances from the managing agent that work would start to address her concerns, but this never materialised.

Rent arrears

Karen had asked Leanne’s former estate agent for a copy of any information relating to the tenancy. The information from the agent showed an erratic payment history. Leanne explained that she had, at times, withheld her rent for days and even weeks, in an attempt to get the agent to attend the property to inspect the problems she had complained about. The account showed that all payments were eventually made, save for the final month’s rent. When asked why she hadn’t paid the last month’s rent, Leanne explained that she was worried the landlord would withhold her deposit and as it had not been protected, and she had never been given a rent book with her landlord’s address, she knew it would be difficult to get this money back, so she had told the agent to deduct the final month’s rent from her deposit.

Submissions to the Housing Executive

Karen’s submissions to the Housing Executive in support of Leanne’s review request focused on whether the law relating to intentionality had been applied accurately. Karen felt that no consideration had been given to whether it was reasonable for Leanne and her family to continue to occupy the private tenancy, bearing in mind the significant disrepair in the property.

In addition, Article 6 (3) of the Housing (NI) Order 1988 provides that a person’s actions should not be regarded as deliberate if they were made in good faith, and Karen argued that Leanne’s late payments were an act of good faith, intended to spur the agent into action to make the property suitable for the family, and were not intended to result in the family being deprived of their home.

Karen felt that, as the reviewing officer hadn’t carried out full investigations into the disrepair in the property and the reasons for Leanne’s late payments, the decision was fundamentally flawed.

Successful outcome

The Housing Executive overturned the decision on review and accepted that Leanne was a full duty applicant. Leanne was placed on the waiting list with her homeless points and is currently living in single-let accommodation while waiting for an offer in her area of choice. 

Tagged In

Homelessness, Adviser

Author

Etain Ní Fhearghail