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When everyone has a home

028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

ADVISER: What happens when a protected tenancy is repossessed?

Two topics that often strike fear into the heart of an adviser are protected tenancies and the appointment of a receiver.  We recently had a case where both these issues combined, causing much confusion and distress to the tenant.

Receivers and NI laws

On a number of occasions, we’ve run into problems dealing with receivers based in England who don’t fully understand how the law in Northern Ireland differs from that in England.  This has ranged from failing to observe the proper notice to quit periods, right up to a recent case where a receiver issued a protected tenant with notice to quit.

Rose’s story

Rose’s daughter originally contacted us when her mother received a letter from a receiver explaining that they had taken over possession of the property.  Rose had been living at the property in question for 43 years and the property was registered with the Rent Officer for Northern Ireland as a protected tenancy. 

Our adviser, Jonathan, explained that the fact that the property was in receivership didn’t impact on Rose’s status as a protected tenant, but simply meant that she’d be paying her registered rent to the receiver from now until she was notified otherwise.

A few weeks later, Rose called us.  She was distraught as she’d received a letter in the post telling her she had 28 days to vacate the home she’d lived in for over 40 years.

Receivers, landlords, solicitors

When a receiver takes over a property they collect the rent from the property, while the landlord remains responsible for repairs and other elements of tenancy management.

The receiver will quite often have a local solicitor, particularly if they are based elsewhere in the UK.  If you have a case where the receiver has failed to observe NI laws, it may be best to try to contact this solicitor first to explain the problem.

Evicting a protected tenant

Landlords can only begin the process of evicting a protected tenant if they

  • can prove one of the mandatory grounds for possession or
  • can prove a discretionary ground for possession and satisfy a judge that possession is reasonable under the circumstances.

None of the mandatory or discretionary grounds were quoted in the notice sent to Rose.  Jonathan wrote to the receiver and its local solicitor, outlining Rose’s status as a protected tenant and explaining that the notice to quit issued was invalid as none of the grounds for possession were cited.

Frustratingly, Rose’s landlord then issued a fresh notice to quit, amending the notice period to 8 weeks, rather than 28 days and causing further distress to Rose. 

Contacting the local solicitor

Jonathan spoke with the receiver’s local solicitor to explain that Rose was a protected tenant and, as such, could not be evicted without proving one of the mandatory or discretionary grounds for possession.  The solicitor checked the Rent Register to confirm Rose’s status and advised their client to withdraw the notice.

Jonathan called Rose to explain that the notice to quit would be withdrawn and that the solicitor had confirmed that Rose would continue to enjoy her tenancy as long as she continues to pay the agreed rent and rates.  As a protected tenant, Rose’s rent is set by the Rent Officer so she is safe from unexpected rent increases.

Should Rose fall behind on her rent or rates, the receiver would have grounds to being possession proceedings, but would still need to convince a court that possession action was a reasonable step to take under these circumstances. 

Further attempts to evict Rose

Jonathan assumed that this was an end to Rose’s problem and called her a few days later to let her know he’d be closing her case.  He was astonished to hear that Rose had received a new letter from the landlord insisting that she vacate the property in the next week and surrender the keys of the property.

This type of letter could easily be seen as harassment and leave the landlord open to prosecution.  Jonathan contacted the local solicitor again to express his confusion at this new letter and raise his concerns about the impact this type of harassing behaviour was having on an elderly and frail woman.  The local solicitor said this had happened entirely independently of them and the client was now clearly acting against their legal advice.

Getting an apology

Jonathan went directly to the case manager at the receivers to find out what had gone so wrong in their handling of this case.  The case manager confessed to not fully understanding the legislation in Northern Ireland and agreed to withdraw the demand that Rose vacate the property and write to her apologising for any distress caused.

How to help your clients avoid similar problems

This case highlights how crucial it is to have a good understanding of housing legislation when you’re helping clients whose landlords have been repossessed.  Had Jonathan not picked up on the fact that Rose’s tenancy was protected, she may very well have lost her home.

We’ll be running a training session on Landlord Repossession soon that will look at the processes that must be followed when a landlord’s rental properties are repossessed.  The course will help anyone who regularly advises private tenants and will look at the security of tenure of tenants who find themselves in this position.   

The course will run in Belfast and Derry/Londonderry

Tagged In

Repossession, Private Tenancies, Practical tips, Adviser

This article was written on 29 October 2014. It should not be relied on as a statement of the current law or policy position. For help with housing issues please contact our helpline on 028 9024 5640 or use our online chat service at www.housingadviceNI.org.