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Landlord licensing urged by council in Private Rented Sector review

At its latest People and Communities Committee meeting, Belfast City Council considered its response to the Department for Social Development’s Review of the Private Rented Sector.

Our recent Private Rented Sector conference highlighted a number of measures, which, if adopted locally, could help to make the private rental sector fit for purpose.  We are encouraged to see that the council’s draft response, published in the report pack for yesterday's meeting,  contains support for these measures. The need for such changes is borne out by the experiences of the tenants who contact us every week for advice on dealing with problems in the private rented sector.

Belfast City Council’s draft response includes support for landlord licensing, stronger enforcement powers to deal with infringement of the tenancy deposit protection regulations and replacing the current fitness standard with the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS). 

Licensing of private landlords.

Belfast City Council supports the introduction of mandatory licensing for the entire private sector, in order to provide adequate protection for all private tenants. The council’s response highlights the example of Newham Council in London, which has successfully introduced a mandatory licensing scheme for landlords.

Anthony Quinn, Principal Environmental Health Officer at Newham Council, presented useful information about the operation of landlord licensing at our recent Private Rented Sector Conference. You can download his presentation from our website.

Strengthening enforcement powers under the Tenancy Deposit Scheme.

In our recent Policy Briefing on the Tenancy Deposit Scheme, we discussed what we see as defects in the operation of the scheme and argued that certain amendments should be made in order to ensure that tenants’ deposits are fully protected.  Belfast City Council highlights similar concerns in its draft response to the review of the private rented sector.

The council raises concerns about the level of fines issued at court to landlords who have failed to comply with the scheme and the difficulties that councils face in taking action against a landlord who has failed to comply with the scheme if more than 6 months have passed since the date of the offence.  In its response, the council suggests that:

  • in the event of non-payment of a fixed penalty under the Tenancy Deposit Scheme, the minimum fine should not be less than said penalty;
  • a landlords’ failure to protect a deposit should not “time out” as an offence after 6 months.

Adopting the Housing Health and Safety Rating System

Housing Rights further welcomes Belfast City Council’s position that the current fitness standard should be replaced by the adoption of the Housing Health and Safety Rating System. Our Policy Briefing on the Housing Health and Safety Rating System argues that the current fitness standard is outdated and does not take account of issues such as thermal comfort.  We reviewed examples of best practice elsewhere and believe that adopting the HHSRS could lead to improved standards in the sector and safeguard the health and safety of tenants, for whom standards remain a key concern.

Resources to help you with your response to the review

You have until 5 February to submit your response to the Department’s Review of the Private Rented Sector.  Organisations submitting a response may find the following reports and papers useful:

Tagged In

Fitness, Private Tenancies, Policy, Landlord

This article was written on 13 January 2016. 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.