There are a number of things which landlords need to be aware of if letting a property or properties in Northern Ireland. One of the most important differences to bear in mind is that the 1988 Housing Act does not extend to Northern Ireland, meaning that assured tenancies and assured shorthold tenancies have not been implemented.
Types of tenancy
The types of private tenancies in Northern Ireland are as follows:
- Protected (or statutory) tenancies and protected shorthold tenancies
- Fixed term tenancies, which last for a set amount of time as stipulated in the tenancy agreement
- Periodic tenancies, which run from one rental period to the next on an indefinite basis (fixed term tenancies that come to an end become periodic tenancies if the landlord does not seek immediate repossession)
Protected or statutory tenancies are tenancies which began before April 1 2007 for properties which were built, or converted for letting, before 1956. In the case of a protected tenancy, the original contract is still in operation; statutory tenancies occur when either the protected tenancy ends or when the original tenant dies. In the former case, the tenant is legally allowed to continue in the tenancy on a periodic basis; in the latter case, the tenancy transfers to the original tenant's successor. Both types are frequently referred to simply as 'protected tenancies' for the sake of convenience.
Some new tenancies, known as 'protected shorthold tenancies', were created between 1983 and April 1 2007 for properties which had previously been let under protected tenancies. These agreements allowed the tenant or tenants to benefit from controlled rent for a fixed period, after which the landlord was entitled to seek possession.
No protected tenancies have been created after April 1 2007 due to the implementation of the Private Tenancies (Northern Ireland) Order 2006. As a result, the number of protected tenancies is decreasing; however, many still exist. See Protected and statutory tenancies – A guide for private landlords and tenants in Northern Ireland for more information.
The terms of a tenancy created after 1 April 2007 must be outlined by the landlord of the property in a Statement of Tenancy Terms within 28 days of the start of the tenancy; failure to do so may result in a fine of up to £2,500. This is in accordance with the Tenancy Terms Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2007, which list the particulars and additional information that must be given in every such written statement. (Please see the Landlord forms section for a template Statement of Tenancy Terms.)
Unlike in England, Wales and Scotland, where a landlord is obliged to provide a rent book only when rent is paid weekly, landlords in Northern Ireland must provide rent books in all cases – irrespective of when the tenancy began, how the rent is paid, or how frequently it is paid. The tenant or tenants must hold the rent book, but they are obliged to make it available so that it may be updated by the landlord. The information that must be included in a rent book is as follows:
- The date upon which the tenancy commenced
- The name(s) of the tenant or tenants
- The address of the property
- The capital value of the property
- The landlord's details (name, address and telephone number)
- The name, address and telephone number of the landlord's agent (if applicable)
- The amount of rent payable and the frequency of rental payments
- The rates (see below) payable by the tenant and the frequency of payment
- The amount and description of any other payment required of the tenant in addition to rent
It is a right of all tenants in Northern Ireland to claim housing benefit to help with their rental payments. Prospective tenants may also apply for a Pre-Tenancy determination (for which the landlord is required to sign a form); in this instance, the Housing Executive will conduct an assessment to determine the maximum amount of rent that will be covered by housing benefit prior to the signing of the tenancy agreement.
Interference with the right of a tenant to claim housing benefit could be seen as harassment, for which District Councils have the power to commence legal proceedings and, if they believe an offence has been committed, to prosecute. See Protection against harassment and illegal eviction – A guide for private landlords and tenants in Northern Ireland for more information.
Occupants of a property in Northern Ireland ordinarily have to pay rates. Rates are a tax on the rental value of a property and have been replaced in England, Scotland and Wales, first by the Community Charge (‘poll tax’), and most recently by Council Tax. A property's rateable value is known as its net annual value (NAV), which determines the rates payable upon the property. As the occupant, the tenant is liable to pay in most cases – this should be covered in the rent, however, as noted in 'tenancy agreements' (above).
The landlord is liable to pay rates on a property if:
- the NAV of the property is less than £750;
- the capital value of the property is less than £55,000;
- both of the following conditions apply:
a) the rent is collected at intervals shorter than quarterly (or the tenancy agreement does not stipulate when rent should be collected); and
b) either the NAV of the property is less than £1,590 or its capital value is less than £150,000;
- separate parts of the property are let out as apartments or lodgings; or
- the property is a house in multiple occupation (HMO), defined by the Housing (Northern Ireland) Order 2003 as "a house occupied by more than two qualifying persons ... who are not all members of the same family".
Please see the Rates (Northern Ireland) Order 1977 for more information.
Landlords can only charge market rent on non-protected tenancies which have been deemed fit for habitation by the District Council. Other tenancies are rent controlled, which means that a rent officer will determine the maximum amount of rent that can be charged. In the case of an 'unfit', non-protected property the landlord must conduct the work necessary to bring it up to the required fitness standard and apply (or re-apply) for a fitness inspection; once a Certificate of Fitness is issued, the landlord is free to charge a market rent.
Note that the council is entitled to charge a fee for fitness inspections. The fee for the initial inspection cannot exceed £50. Fees for subsequent inspections cannot exceed £100.
Controlled rents can only change if the fitness status of the tenancy changes, if there is a change in the circumstances of the tenancy (in the case of significant deterioration or improvement work, for instance), of if the Department conducts a review of registered rents. This does not happen on a regular basis, and such reviews may not apply to all controlled rents.
Repairs and maintenance
Landlords in Northern Ireland are required by law to ensure the safety of gas appliances and the fire safety of furnishings. Outside of these obligations, landlords and tenants may agree upon any division of responsibilities for repairs and maintenance as they see fit. Where a clear division of responsibilities is not provided for a tenancy which commenced after April 1 2007, 'default terms' are imposed. Please see Repairs – A guide for private landlords and tenants in Northern Ireland for more information.
Changing the rent or terms of a non-protected tenancy
In the case of a fixed-term tenancy, the landlord may only change the rent or vary the tenancy terms with the agreement of the tenant. In the case of a periodic tenancy, the rent or terms can be altered at the end of any rental period.
Ending a tenancy
Unlike in England, Wales and Scotland, a landlord is not required by law to serve a 'notice to quit' (known in countries regulated by the 1988 Housing Act as a 'Section 21') in the event of a fixed term tenancy coming to an end (although it is considered good practice to advise the tenant or tenants of their intention to seek repossession).
When serving a notice to quit for a periodic tenancy, the notice required depends on the length of the tenancy, as follows:
- Less than five years – no less than four weeks
- Between five and 10 years – no less than eight weeks
- More than 10 years – no less than twelve weeks
We hope that you have found this summary useful. For further details on private renting in Northern Ireland please visit http://www.dsdni.gov.uk/index/hsdiv-housing/private_rented_sector.htm.