Department for Communities release proposals on the Private Rented Sector

April 3, 2017

The Private Rented Sector is instrumental in meeting housing needs in Northern Ireland. It has always catered for a diverse range of households but increasingly has become a more permanent home for a larger number of people growing dramatically over the past twenty five years leading to an increased focus on the sector.  The Department for Communities has undertaken a review of the private rented sector in order to consider the current and potential future role of the sector and to assess the effectiveness of the current regulations and identify where improvements can be made in order to make the sector a more attractive housing option.  The Department considers it important that they strike the right balance of protecting tenants whilst insuring that good landlords are not burdened with unnecessary or cumbersome regulations.  The Department issued a consultation document in January 2017 which sets out their proposals for the review of the private rented sector.  The proposals relate to supply, affordability, security of tenure, tenancy management, property standards, dispute resolution and tenancy deposits.  Below is a summary of the proposals contained within the consultation document.

Supply

 

  • The Department proposes to commission work to gauge the appetite for institutional investors to invest in the private rented sector in Northern Ireland.
  • Explore opportunities for shared housing to incentivise the development of more mixed tenure housing areas including private rented accommodation.
  • To scope opportunities with Housing Associations for their greater involvement in the private rented sector.

Affordability

 

  • The Department proposes to introduce legislation to stipulate that rents can only be increased once in any 12 month period.

Security of Tenure

 

  • The Department seeks to bring forward legislation to ensure that all private tenants are issued with a written agreement which must contain certain mandatory terms regardless of the type or length of the tenancy.
  • Proposal to amend the Notice to Quit period for tenancies lasting longer than 12 months increasing the current four week notice period to two months.
  • The Department will seek to introduce legislation for a fast track eviction scheme which may include mandatory grounds for possession and provide appropriate safe guards to ensure fairness.

Tenancy Management

 

  • The overall proposal is to increase the knowledge and skills of both Landlords and Tenants in the private rented sector by looking at the following:
  • To review the impact of the Chartered Institute of Housing training courses and explore funding options for extensions of the course.
  • The Department will fund a pilot dedicated Landlord advice line in order to provide advice and information from professional qualified advisers to help professionalise the sector.
  • Development of a Tenant Information Pack which Landlords must provide to all Tenants at the start of a tenancy.
  • There is a proposal to amend the Landlord Registration Scheme to incorporate a “fitness declaration” by the Landlord when registering a property. Councils could carry out random checks on registered properties.
  • Introduction of a Regulatory framework for all letting agents including legislation to ban letting fees.

Property Standards

 

  • The Department proposes to introduce legislation to make it mandatory for private Landlords to provide smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and carry out period electrical tests on electrical appliances. The frequency of such tests has not yet been decided.
  • To introduce legislation around Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) Ratings similar to that in England whereby properties must be of a certain minimum EPC rating in order to be privately let.
  • Amendment of legislation so that all unfit properties built before 1956 (rather than 1945) are subject to rent control.

Dispute Resolution

 

  • The Department proposes to examine the financial case for establishing an independent housing panel for Northern Ireland.

Tenancy Deposits

 

  • The Department proposes to introduce retrospective protection so that all private rented deposits will be protected irrespective of the date when the Tenancy started.
  • Amend legislation to remove the loophole meaning that offences under the tenancy deposit scheme cannot be prosecuted after six months have passed.
  • Amend legislation to allow part of fixed penalties paid by Landlords to be paid to tenants.
  • Allow Landlords up to 28 days (increased from 14 days) to protect a tenants deposit.

The Department welcomes the input and opinion of anyone involved in the private rented sector to the proposed amendments.

The Department will consider all responses provided in writing preferably in electronic format responding to the following email address policy.housing@communities-ni.gov.uk

A full copy of the consultation document can be obtained from the Department for Communities’ website.