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When everyone has a home

028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

ADVISER: Unfair break clause in tenancy agreement

Many of the cases we feature on our website are the result of long investigations and complex work carried out by our casework team. But, we regularly turn around positive outcomes much more quickly for people who contact our daily housing helpline. In a recent example, Victoria used her knowledge of housing and consumer law to prevent homelessness for a young single mum who had been given notice to quit by her landlord.

Carmen called Housing Rights for help after receiving a letter from a solicitor. The letter told her that she had four weeks to leave the property. But, Carmen was confused by this as she knew that she had signed a 12-month tenancy agreement just three months prior. She had moved into the property with a baby and a toddler and she had made it clear to the agent when viewing properties that she wanted somewhere she could view as a long-term home for her young family. The solicitor’s notice to quit relied on a clause in the tenancy agreement which allows the landlord to terminate the agreement at any stage during the initial 12-month term.  

Application of consumer protections to tenancy agreements

Victoria’s immediate concern was the fact that this supposed break clause was not reciprocal. Break clauses, allowing either the landlord or tenant to terminate the lease before its natural expiry, are rare enough in tenancy agreements in Northern Ireland, but Victoria knew that these clauses, like any others, are required to be fair, transparent and prominent. Victoria explained to Carmen that her contract had to comply with the provisions of the Consumer Rights Act 2015, and that any term which didn’t comply would be unenforceable, meaning the landlord couldn’t rely on an unfair term to regain possession of the property.

Was the break clause fair?

Victoria spent a bit of time looking at the Consumer Rights Act and, specifically, at Schedule 2 of this act which includes some examples of the types of consumer contract terms which may be regarded as unfair. The seventh example in the schedule is “A term which has the object or effect of authorising the trader to dissolve the contract on a discretionary basis where the same facility is not granted to the consumer…”

Advocating on Carmen's behalf

Confident that the landlord was acting beyond his legal powers, Victoria then phoned the solicitor who had issued the notice to quit and outlined her argument. The solicitor advised that he would seek further instructions from the landlord. Although it took a few days to get a response from the solicitor, the firm eventually confirmed that the notice had been issued in error and would be revoked. Victoria wanted to ensure Carmen felt a renewed sense of security in her home, so insisted that a letter be sent to Carmen clearly stating that the notice was revoked and that the landlord was not seeking possession of the dwelling.

Preventing homelessness through advice and advocacy

Without Victoria’s intervention, Carmen and her two very young children would have been homeless and would have been reliant on the Housing Executive for emergency accommodation and assistance. It’s lucky that Carmen came to us for advice; it’s not a stretch to think that many people in similar circumstances would have been intimidated by a solicitor’s letter and felt that they had no option but to comply with a letter telling them to leave their home. Victoria’s good work shows how important access to free, independent and specialist housing advice is in dealing with homelessness and poor housing.

Tagged In

Private Tenancies, Practical tips, Adviser

This article was written on 20 March 2019. 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.