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When everyone has a home

028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

ADVISER: Helping young person access private rented housing

As social housing becomes more difficult to access, many people who may traditionally have found a home in this sector are turning to the private rented sector for a home. However, some people face barriers in accessing this type of accommodation, not just through affordability pressures, but also due to their age. Our adviser talks through a case where she advocated on behalf of a young woman to enable her to take on a tenancy, despite not yet being 18.

Background to the case

Naomi*, a 17 year old with a six month old baby contacted the Housing Rights helpline for advice a few weeks ago. She couldn’t remain at home, due to severe overcrowding but needed to live in a specific area of Belfast, which required a very high points award for an allocation. Naomi found a private tenancy, which seemed to suit her and the baby perfectly, but on applying was told that she couldn’t take on the tenancy as she was under 18. The agent would only grant the tenancy to Naomi if her father agreed to be the named tenant, and her mother consented to act as guarantor. However, this would cause difficulties when Naomi tried to claim benefits to pay her rent as she would not be able to produce a tenancy agreement in her own name.

Naomi felt at a complete dead end. Although the property was ideal for her, and would allow her a home close to her family, she was concerned about taking on a tenancy with no means to pay the rent and so contacted Housing Rights for help.

Can a minor be pursued for debt?

It’s reasonably common for landlords and agents to refuse to let to a person under the age of 18, due to the commonly held belief that it is impossible to pursue debts incurred by someone under 18.  Our adviser Sheenaz took on Naomi’s case and agreed to advocate on her behalf to try to secure this tenancy to ensure Naomi was settled in her new home by Christmas.

Sheenaz felt that the major barrier to Naomi’s moving in was the agent’s fear that they would be unable to pursue Naomi for any rent arrears that might accrue during the tenancy. After researching this matter, Sheenaz established that it is possible for a debt against a minor to be enforced as long as

  • the contract was for a necessity and
  • the court believes the debt is enforceable.

In this context, necessities are defined as goods or services to the condition in life of a minor and his or her actual requirement at the time of sale or delivery.

Sheenaz contacted the agent to make her case that this contract was enforceable as the tenancy was a necessity for Naomi and to point out the Naomi’s father was willing to fully guarantee the contractual obligations in the agreement, providing the landlord with a further security should any arrears accrue.

As a result of Sheenaz’s intervention, the agent agreed to alter its policy and to issue the tenancy agreement in Naomi’s name. This made her path to claiming housing costs under Universal Credit much simpler and she is now happily living in her new home, preparing for her first Christmas with her daughter.

We know from experience that many young people, particularly care leavers, face this obstacle when trying to live independently. Agents may be more likely to agree to issue a tenancy agreement in a young person’s sole name, if they are assured that the young person will remain liable for the rent and can be pursued through the courts for any debts if the rent is unpaid.

Note for landlords and agents

Agents and landlords should also be aware that while the debt is enforceable, land law does not actually allow a minor to hold a ‘legal’ interest in land. The interest held is equitable, rather than legal. In effect, this means that the landlord is holding the tenancy in trust for the young person until such time as that person turns 18. Once a young person turns 18, it is advisable to issue a new contract if both parties wish the tenancy to continue.

*Client's name has been changed

Tagged In

Benefits, Private Tenancies, Practical tips, Adviser

Author

Etain Ní Fhearghail