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When everyone has a home

028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

Restrictions remain in place for NI property market

Confusion around the relaxation of movement restrictions in England have led to an increase in calls to our helpline from tenants who have been told to facilitate property viewings and inspections. There has been no change to the regulations in Northern Ireland which do exempt landlords or other property professionals from the general restrictions on public gatherings, movement and travel. The advice remains to stay at home. Viewings and inspections should continue to be suspended.

Property access

Article 12 of the Private Tenancies Order (NI) 2006 states that tenants must grant access to the landlord, or a person contracted by the landlord, for the purposes of inspection of repair as long as reasonable advance notice is given and the visit happens at a reasonable time of day. 

This requirement to facilitate access does not extend to facilitating viewings of properties where a property has been marketed, but most tenancy agreements will include a clause requiring the tenant to facilitate such access. Of course, any such term would only be enforceable as long as it was fair, and provided that adequate advance notice would be given to the tenant before any such viewing would occur. 

However, where the tenant has not consented to any visit by the landlord, the landlord should only enter against the tenant's wishes in an emergency situation, such as a gas leak or other issue which presents an imminent public safety risk. Otherwise, the landlord must apply to court for an injunction granting access to the tenant's home. A tenant who refuses to allow access to the property for a viewing could be at risk of possession action for failure to perform their contractual obligations, but the landlord cannot use the existence of such a term in a contract as a way to force entry against the tenant's wishes. 

Change in England

The Regulations which set out the detail of public restrictions in England were amended on 13 May. From that date certain functions of the property market, including viewing and inspecting properties, were included as a reasonable excuse for being outside of the home. However, this change only applies within England. 

Legislation and guidance in Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland has its own legislation setting out the particulars of the lockdown here. Regulation 5 of The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) Regulations (NI) 2020 sets out the restrictions on movement within Northern Ireland and the types of activity that would constitute a reasonable excuse for restricted movement. The only excuse relating specifically to property is "to move house where reasonably necessary". Department for Communities guidance for private rented sector landlords and tenants clearly states that "no one should visit the property to conduct viewings, or anything else which is not urgent and health and safety-related."

Landlords who are concerned about conditions in their property and who need to obtain access should speak to Landlord Advice or consider alternative ways of carrying out an inspection, such as utilising video calling apps. 

Tenants who are under pressure to allow others into their home should seek advice from Housing Rights and can contact their local council's Environmental Health Department if the landlord or agent is trying to enter the property against their wishes. 

Tagged In

Coronavirus, Private Tenancies

This article was written on 18 May 2020. 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.