Renting a home from a private landlord or through an agent could be a good option for you if you need to find somewhere quickly or if the Housing Executive isn’t required to offer you permanent housing.
However problems can crop up when you're renting from a landlord. Try to be a responsible tenant.
Know your rights
It’s essential that you know your rights as a private tenant. You can only legally be regarded as a tenant if you’re over 18. If you’re younger than that you might find it difficult getting a landlord to agree to rent a property to you.
In some cases, the landlord might accept a younger tenant if you provide a guarantor who can sign the agreement for you. The landlord is not able to make a valid tenancy agreement with someone under 18 but he or she may allow you to stay in the property on a license basis if you can provide a guarantor. However a license doesn’t allow you as many rights as a tenancy, so get advice if you’re thinking about this option.
If you’re under 18 and you’re thinking about renting privately, talk to an advice agency like Housing Rights first to check if it’s the right housing option for you.
Regardless of your age, if you are a legal tenant of a property the landlord has certain responsibilities to you and you have responsibilities to your landlord. Sometimes, landlords might not carry out their legal responsibilities, particularly if they think you’re young and you don’t understand your legal rights.
Getting repairs done
Finding and moving into a new home is pretty exciting. You might overlook problems with the property because you’re so keen to move in.
When you first look at a property don’t let the estate agent rush or pressure you and don’t get swept up by the internal decoration. Make sure you properly check that the place fits your needs and if you notice anything that needs to be repaired get the landlord’s promise to fix it in writing before you sign an agreement.
Always take a detailed inventory of the condition of the property and any furniture. You don't want to end up paying for damages that you didn't cause. You can use our sample inventory, but you should sign it and get your agent or landlord to sign it too.
The law requires that your landlord carries out certain basic repairs, but the housing standard in the law isn’t very high. This means that it can be difficult to get your landlord to carry out some repairs if he or she doesn’t want to do them. However, most landlords are pretty good when it comes to repairs.
Don’t forget it’s your responsibility to tell the landlord as soon as something breaks or needs to be fixed. If you or your guests caused the damage, you will probably have to pay to get it fixed. It’s a good idea to follow up any requests for repairs with an email or a letter, so you can prove that you’ve told the landlord about the problem.
Problems with your landlord
Your landlord can’t come and go in your property as he or she pleases. The landlord can only enter the property if you or another tenant has allowed this.
Your landlord cannot cut off your access to electricity, water, heat or other essential services and cannot change the locks in the property or mess with your stuff. If any of this happens, contact an advice agency immediately as your landlord may be guilty of a criminal offence.
If your landlord threatens you, let the Environmental Health officer at your local council know. If you’ve been assaulted you should contact the police.
An advice agency like Housing Rights can help explain what your landlord is and isn’t allowed to do and may be able to help out if you’re being harassed or intimidated by your landlord.
You can’t be physically removed from a property where you are a tenant unless the person who is trying to remove you is there as a representative of the Enforcement of Judgements Office. Your landlord can’t turn up and throw you out of the property or come into the property and remove your property. This is illegal.
If you’ve fallen behind on your rent or you’ve broken the terms of your contract your landlord may decide to end the tenancy agreement. To do this the landlord will have to give you at least 28 days Notice to Quit in writing explaining why you have to leave. If you don’t have a tenancy agreement or your tenancy agreement has expired the landlord can give you 28 days Notice to Quit at any time, without needing a reason.
If you stay on in the property after the notice to quit expires the landlord will have to apply to a court to have you evicted. It’s not a good idea to stay on after the notice expires unless you have a tenancy agreement and disagree with the reasons the landlord has given on the notice to quit. Your landlord has to go to court to have you evicted, but if you've not kept the terms of the agreement - say, you've caused damage to the property or you've stopped paying rent - the judge will probably allow the landlord to go ahead with the eviction. If this happens, you might end up paying all your landlord's legal costs.
If you get a Notice to Quit from your landlord talk to an advice agency to see if you can fight the eviction action and what your rehousing options are.
You can find out more about the correct way to end a tenancy on our advice in our renting section.
Getting your deposit back
When you move into a rented property you’ll usually be asked to pay a security deposit. This is to protect the landlord from any money he or she might lose out on because of your tenancy. If you paid your deposit on or after 1 April 2013 your landlord must protect this deposit with an approved tenancy deposit scheme. There are 3 schemes in Northern Ireland. Your landlord must protect your deposit within 14 days of receiving it and must give you a list of information, including details on where your deposit is, within 28 days of you giving him or her the money.
The landlord can keep some or all of your deposit if you leave the property:
- without giving proper notice
- owing rent to the landlord or
- having caused damage.
However, your landlord shouldn’t make a profit out of your deposit. It should only be used to cover reasonable expenses that are your fault. Your deposit shouldn’t be used to cover normal wear and tear on furniture, but can be used to replace damaged or broken items.
If your landlord refuses to return your deposit and you think this is unfair, talk to an advice agency like Housing Rights. If your deposit was protected under a tenancy deposit protection scheme you can tell the scheme administrator that you disagree with the landlord's decision. The scheme administrator will then look at the paperwork to see who it thinks the money should be returned to.
If your deposit didn't have to be protected, you should write to your landlord to see if you can convince him or her to return your money. If this doesn’t work you’ll have to make a claim in the Small Claims Court to get your deposit back.
Problems with benefits
Young people who rent their homes from a private landlord or agent will normally have restrictions placed on the amount of rental help they can get through benefits. You'll normally only get the shared rate of local housing allowance. This can make it much more difficult to afford a place to rent and most young people end up moving into shared housing, rather than renting a house or flat of their own. If the benefit you get to help with housing costs isn't covering your full rent, you might be able to get a Discretionary Housing Payment to help you out for a short while. This extra payment will only be given to you for a short time and there's no guarantee that you'll get it.
Students won't normally get any benefits to help with their rent, but there are some exceptions to this rule.
If you're worried about paying your rent, speak to an adviser to see what your options are.