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Housing Amendments in Northern Ireland

We have not looked at Northern Ireland for some time now, since the introduction of the Housing (Amendment) Act (Northern Ireland) 2010 in fact.

Therefore we felt we should take a look at the (slightly unimaginatively named) Housing (Amendment) (No.2) Bill which is currently in committee stage in the Assembly until the end of January 2011. Back at the start of the year we mentioned that a consultation on a draft version of this bill was underway. This new bill is part of the product of that process.

The new amendment bill seeks to amend the Private Tenancies (Northern Ireland) Order 2006 which controls the majority of private residential tenancies entered into in NI.

There are three key changes:

  1. The need to provide a statement of tenancy terms will be abolished and this information will need to be placed into the rent book.
  2. There will be am introduction of a tenancy deposit protection scheme along the lines of that operated in England and Wales.
  3. There will be a new ‘light touch’ registration scheme for landlords.

There are a number of other provisions such as the creation of a power to demand evidence of family relationships to assist with regulation of HMOs and also extending the ability to regulate rent in relation to properties subject to rent control.

Interestingly the draft bill does not allow for tenants to enforce the non-registration of a tenancy deposit by seeking a civil penalty as is the case in England & Wales but rather makes a failure to properly register a deposit a criminal offence with a fine limited to a maximum of £2,500. There is an ability for landlords who have failed to register a deposit to avoid full court action by simply paying a fixed penalty fine equivalent to three times the deposit. This seems a little steep given that the maximum fine on attending Court is only £2,500. Additionally, the Assembly has not followed the proposed system in Scotland carefully enough and has also failed to learn lessons from the English experience. Therefore it has focused on protecting the deposit within 14 days of receipt. The issue of receipt has caused immense problems in England & Wales and is a glaring loophole in the system. There is still an opportunity for the Assembly to rethink this issue and it should be taken.

All posts on Northern Ireland specific topics can be found here.

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