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When everyone has a home

Housing advice for Northern Ireland

Coronavirus advice for private renters

CORONAVIRUS UPDATE

Talk to your landlord or agent about any concerns you may have. 

Have your say

The Department for Communities wants to know how private tenants have been affected by COVID-19. If you'd like to have your say, complete this short survey.   

Problems paying rent

Your landlord doesn’t have to do anything to help you if you are struggling to pay rent. However, many landlords are concerned about their tenants and will try to help. You could ask the landlord to

  • reduce your rent for a period of time
  • use your deposit to cover a month’s rent and allow you to build this up again when you’re back on your feet
  • postpone rent payments until a point in the future when you’ll be able to repay what you owe
  • allow you to offset rent payments against work that needs done in the property.

If your landlord is able to help you out in some way, make sure you have a written record of any changes agreed. This doesn’t have to be a formal signed contract. An email or message explaining the changes, how long they are in place for and any conditions attached will be fine.

Can you claim benefits to help?

You may be able to get benefits to help with your rent and other living costs if your income has reduced.

Most people will have to claim Universal Credit to get help with rent. If you are over pension age or you are getting certain disability benefits, you can claim Housing Benefit. Get advice if you aren’t sure which to claim.

You claim Universal Credit online.  When you claim, you can ask for an advance payment and you should also ask for a payment from the Universal Credit contingency fund. The advance must be paid back, but you don’t have to pay back the contingency fund payment.  Universal Credit will include money to help with your household living costs, as well as your rent.

Benefits are not covering rent

The amount you get towards your rent probably won’t cover the full amount you pay to the landlord. You can apply to the Housing Executive for extra help towards your rent if you are entitled to Housing Benefit or Universal Credit. This extra help is called a Discretionary Housing Payment or DHP Our advisers can help you with this process.

The Housing Executive has said that it will pay the difference between what you get from Universal Credit and what you pay your landlord for 13 weeks as long as

  • you haven't got Housing Benefit or Universal Credit to help with your rent in the last 12 months AND
  • you could afford to pay the rent without benefits when you initially moved into your rented home.

Ask to have your DHP increased if you are already getting this help but have been impacted by coronavirus. Get advice if you aren't sure how to do this. 

Paying your rates

Once you are getting Universal Credit you can apply for a rates rebate. This money will be credited directly to your landlord's rates account. 

Getting other benefits

Universal Credit or Housing Benefit can help with rent, but you may also be entitled to help with your living costs. You may be able to apply for benefits such as Statutory Sick Pay, Universal Credit, new-style Jobseekers' Allowance or new-style Employment and Support Allowance. 

Contact Make the Call or a community advice agency for advice on any benefits you can claim. 

You will not be able to apply for certain benefits if you have "no recourse to public funds". This is a condition placed on certain visas. However, if you have been working or have been self-employed and paid national insurance contributions, you may still be able to get contribution based benefits, like new-style ESA and new-style JSA. 

Eviction

A new law means that your landlord has to give you at least 12 weeks notice of the date you have to leave your rented home. 

This doesn't apply if you got notice in writing from your landlord before 5 May 2020. But, even if your landlord doesn't have to give you longer notice, the landlord still has to go to court to evict you. 

Your landlord must go to court to evict you and the courts are not currently dealing with eviction hearings. It is illegal for a landlord to force you to leave the property without a court order. This applies even if you haven’t been able to pay rent.

Your landlord or agent can't force you to leave your rented home during this crisis. If you are told that you have to get out, get advice immediately.

Repairs

Your landlord has the same responsibilities to carry out repairs as existed before this crisis. However, the landlord may have difficulties getting a contractor to visit the property to carry out repairs.  This means that it could take longer to get things sorted out, or that you might need to be more flexible about when repairs happen.

If there are serious problems in your property and your landlord is refusing to deal with these, you should contact the environmental health department at your local council. Most councils are running a limited service at the moment and will only be able to take urgent action if there is a serious public health risk. Make sure to explain how serious the situation is if you are reporting an emergency repair and get advice if you need help to get the problem sorted out.

Inspections and viewings

Government guidance explains the steps that should be taken to make sure viewings are carried out safely. If you are renting a home, your landlord or agent should only schedule a viewing in your home if you agree to this and if you have given notice to quit and are preparing to move out. You can't be forced to agree to a viewing. 

The agent or landlord has to make sure that the viewing is conducted safely. You may be asked to leave the property during the viewing. If you can't do this, you should maintain a 2 metre distance from other people. 

The agent or landlord is supposed to make sure that the people viewing the property have access to handwashing facilities and separate sanitiser and towels from those used by your household. They should also make sure that door handles and any other surfaces touched have been sanitised after the viewing.

Get advice if you have been told that you must allow strangers into your home against your wishes.

Ending your tenancy early

We've had calls from a lot of people who have decided to leave their private tenancies and move back in with family. These calls have mostly come from students. Queen's University and the University of Ulster have announced that they will release students from their halls of residence accommodation contracts if the students do not wish to remain. Both institutions also have student hardship funds which can be accessed by students who are experiencing financial hardship as a result of the coronavirus crisis, or for any other reason. 
 
You must pay the rent for your property until the contract ends, even if you have decided to move out before then. If you don't pay rent, the landlord can take legal action against you, or your guarantor, to recover any money owed under the contract, but your responsibility to pay rent ends as soon as new tenants move in. 
 
You should contact your landlord to see if they are willing to release you from the agreement early. The landlord doesn't have to agree to this, but may be sympathetic. When you are negotiating with the landlord, you could consider:
  • asking the landlord to apply for a mortgage payment holiday for the next three months,
  • agreeing to allow the landlord to keep the deposit to cover reasonable losses as a result of the tenant's early termination,
  • asking the landlord to try to find alternative tenants or to offer the property to NIHE for use as temporary housing,
  • working out what you can afford to pay the landlord, and asking if the landlord will accept this as a final settlement of the contract.
It will be up to the landlord to decide whether or not to release you from the agreement. If the landlord doesn't agree to this and you leave anyway, there is a risk that the landlord will keep the deposit and even take you, or your guarantor, to court to recover the unpaid rent.
 
There has been no suggestion from Stormont as yet that they will be changing the law to help people in this situation. There is more general advice about getting out of a tenancy agreement elsewhere on this site. 

Isolating in shared housing

It's much harder to isolate safely if you live in shared housing and are sharing kitchen and bathroom facilities with people you don't really know. Speak to your flatmates and your landlord is you have signs of Covid-19 or have been in contact with someone else who has symptoms and you need to isolate. There may be ways to reduce the risk of spreading the virus among the rest of the household. 

If you feel that you are living in an unsafe situation, get advice.

Staying safe

Make sure you check the Public Health Agency website for up to date information and advice on the virus and what to do if you think you may have it.

Read the advice on how to keep your distance from others if you have any symptoms or think you may have the virus. Remember to stay at least 2 metres (3 steps) away from other people and to wash your hands thoroughly and regularly. 

Need help solving a problem?

You should always get advice if you are having problems with a tenancy. You can contact Housing Rights for advice on your rights. Housing Rights can also provide a mediation service if you and your landlord are having problems and need an independent person to help resolve these.