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Committee discusses new laws for private renters 

Picture of front of Stormont

The Department for Communities is developing a new private tenancies bill for Northern Ireland. The bill aims to improve standards and enhance conditions for tenants living in the private rented sector.  

Last week department officials briefed the Committee for Communities on the progression of this new bill.  

Changes to deposit rules, notice periods and rent increases 

The bill proposes a number of changes. Of most significance are:re 

  • Amending existing tenancy deposit arrangements to ensure landlords who fail to comply with the laws face proper penalties; 
  • Limiting the amount that landlords can charge as a deposit; 
  • Requiring landlords to use a prescribed form to end a tenancy;  
  • Increasing the minimum notice periods to which tenants are entitled to 8 weeks if they’ve lived in the property for at least 12 months; 
  • Limiting the number of times rent can be increased to once every 12 months. 

Notice to quit 

The bill will change notice to quit arrangements for tenants and landlords. Until emergency changes were introduced as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, notice periods and arrangements were reciprocal for tenants and landlords in Northern Ireland. This bill will sever that reciprocal link. Instead,  

  • Landlords will be required to give 8 weeks' notice, in a prescribed form for tenancies of between 1 and 10 years in length, increasing to 12 weeks' notice after 10 years 
  • Tenants will be required to give 4 weeks’ notice in writing, increasing to 12 weeks after 10 years 

The bill includes powers allowing the department to extend the notice period which landlords must give to anything up to 6 months, with supporting regulations and appropriate consultation.   

Officials sought legal advice on extending the current 12-week period indefinitely, but were told that this would not be possible without the necessary consultation. The committee noted that increased notice periods may impact on the Housing Executive’s assessment of tenants who are threatened with homelessness.  

Other clauses in the bill 

There are 11 substantive clauses in the bill: 

  • Clause 1 introduces a requirement to give tenants a written statement of tenancy.
  • Clause 2 closes an existing legislative loophole, making it mandatory for landlords to give existing tenants a written tenancy agreement. 
  • Clause 3 introduces a requirement to provide tenants with detailed receipts for rent paid in cash. 
  • Clause 4 limits tenancy deposit amounts to the value of one month’s rent.  
  • Clause 5 extends the time for deposit to be protected from 14 days to 28 days. Landlords also have 35 days to provide deposit protection information to the tenant.  
  • Clause 6 stipulates that there is no time limit to prosecuting a landlord who fails to comply with tenancy deposit protection requirements. 
  • Clause 7 introduces a restriction on rent increases, and provides details of how landlords must provide notice of any increases.  
  • Clause 8 introduces a mandatory requirement on private landlords to provide working fire, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.  
  • Clause 9 provides the department with enabling power to make further regulations regarding energy efficiency in the PRS.   
  • Clause 10 provides the Department with enabling power to make regulations around electrical safety standards in the PRS.   
  • Clause 11 changes the existing arrangements for notice to quit. 

Other developments to improve the private rented sector 

In addition to the content of the bill, the Department noted other projects which they hope will lead to improvements in this sector. These include 

  • Plans to transfer responsibility for the landlord registration scheme from the department to local councils to ensure a more consistent and joined up approach to inspection and enforcement of standards in the private sector; 
  • A forthcoming consultation into an affordable rent product which would provide quality housing at lower than market rates.

Continued work to improve the private rented sector 

This new bill is the first part of the Department’s response to a 2017 consultation into the private rented sector. Once the bill and supporting regulations have been introduced into law, the Department will begin researching further issues, including: 

  • Regulation of letting agents; 
  • Further detail of EPC proposals; 
  • A fitness standards review for all tenures; 
  • Considering whether there should be grounds for eviction; 
  • Consideration of notice to quit periods;
  • Assessment of whether rents in the PRS are fair and in line with similar properties in the social housing sector. 

 The Minister sees the Bill as a starting point in increasing protections for private tenants, and recognises that there are significant additional protections to be secured. Officials estimate that work to reform the private rented sector will continue for the next four to five years.  

The Department hopes to progress the Bill through all stages in the Assembly by March 2022.

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Private Tenancies, Policy

This article was written on 6 July 2021. 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.