When everyone has a home

Housing advice for Northern Ireland

Private tenancies clinic 2 October 2014

This clinic answered questions on grants for new heating systems in private tenancies, HMO problems, housing benefit for rented properties, deposit issues, unfair terms in tenancy agreements and illegal evictions. 

The house I'm renting doesn't have central heating

Martin Smith: I have been renting a property for 43years and the landlord refuses to put in central heating I am not in the best of health I suffer from c.o.p.d my husband is a diabet can you please tell me what my rights are on this matter thank you Mrs smith

housingadviceNI: Hi Mrs Smith. There are a few things you can do. You might want to talk to your landlord about applying for the Warm Homes Scheme. If you qualify for the scheme, you may be entitled to get central heating installed in your home at no cost to the landlord. There's information about this on our website:Energy efficiency | Housing Advice NI

housingadviceNI: You could also ask your local council to inspect the home. They can sometimes make a landlord carry out certain repairs if they believe the property isn't fit or is in a significant state of disrepair. Unfortunately the fitness standard for rented properties in Northern Ireland is pretty low and it doesn't specifically say that properties need to have central heating. I'd say your best bet is to try the Warm Homes scheme first, and then maybe look at the other grant funding for new heating systems provided

housingadviceNI: The Warm Homes Scheme is closing on the 31 March 2015 and the scheme that is replacing it will require that your landlord pay a 50% contribution - it's in your interests to apply for the current scheme as quickly as possible. You can get more information about Warm Homes by calling Bryson Energy Advice Line on 0800 1422 865

Can I get any financial help with a deposit?

Jemz: Hi, I really want to move out from where I‘m living now but I’m struggling to get enough money together. Can I get help in getting a deposit to move in to a private rent?

housingadviceNI: Hi Jemz - thanks for joining our chat. Unfortunately, there isn't any money you can apply for to help with a deposit, but you can sometimes get a loan from the social fund to help with your rent in advance. You apply for this loan at your local jobs and benefits office and you need to meet certain conditions to qualify for the loan

housingadviceNI: You might also want to take a look at the properties advertised by Smartmove Housing NI Private Rented Sector Access Scheme - Smartmove Housing Smartmove won't ask you for the full deposit upfront. They'll let you pay it off over a couple of months. YOu will have to pay something up front, but it'll be a lot less than other estate agents or landlords ask for.

housingadviceNI: You can also contac the Simon Community who offer a Rent Deposit Guarantee scheme. They don't give you money, but they will guarantee your rent to the landlord. This means that if you fall behind on the rent or cause damage the Simon Community will compensate the landlord - talk to the Simon Community if you're interested in this scheme

housingadviceNI: You can call Simon Community on 0800 171 2222

Jemz: OK, thanks for your help.

housingadviceNI: No problem - I hope you find somewhere nice. Have a wee look at our advice on renting privately before you sign a tenancy agreement so you know what kind of things to look out for when looking for a new rented home: Looking for a new private rented home | Housing Advice NI

Can my landlord throw me out if my rent is more than 21 days late?

HRS-Frances: We've had a question from a user on Facebook who says his tenancy agreement includes a really complex term which seems to suggest that his landlord can enter his house and evict him if his rent is more than 21 days late. Paddy wants to know if this is legal.

housingadviceNI: Thanks for this Frances. I've had a quick look at the excerpt from your tenancy agreement that you posted on our Facebook page and have a few concerns about it

housingadviceNI: First of all - Paddy's tenancy agreement is written in really complex language. All tenancy agreements have to be written in easy to understand English since they're subject to the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations.

housingadviceNI: The specific term that Paddy posted was pretty much unintelligible and impossible to work out so the contract could be reported to Trading Standards who can investigate any complaints about unfair terms.

housingadviceNI: The main thing about Paddy's contract though, was that the landlord or agent were saying they could enter the property to evict Paddy if the rent was more than 21 days late and that's simply illegal.

housingadviceNI: Landlords have to follow the proper procedure to end a tenancy agreement. The first stage in this procedure is to send a Notice to Quit, giving the tenant at least 28 days notice of the date the landlord wants them to leave. If the tenant stays on after that date, the landlord has to go to court to get a possession order to evict the tenant.

housingadviceNI: If a tenant has a signed tenancy agreement, the landlord will have to prove to the judge at court that the tenant has broken this agreement and the judge will then decide if the breach of contract is serious enough to make the contract invalid. If it is, he'll make a possession order. If it isn't the judge can allow the tenant to stay.

housingadviceNI: There's more information about this on our website: Notice to Quit and due process | Housing Advice NI but the main point of this issue is that the landlord can't enter a tenant's home without permission, can't forcibly remove a tenant from their rented home and can't change the locks or interfere with the tenant's possessions. If a landlord tries this, you need to contact your local council immediately to report an illegal eviction,

Problems in shared housing - what happens if one tenant leaves?

margaret12: HI

housingadviceNI: Hi Margaret. Can I help you with anything?

margaret12: yes my son is renting a property in Belfast. he’s not getting on with the other boys that he’s living with but the landlord says if he goes he’ll have to keep paying rent. I don’t think this is fair – is there anything he can do?

housingadviceNI: That's a shame Margaret. Is your son a student?

margaret12: yes, he is a first year. He is living with a group of boys he had never met before

housingadviceNI: Most students or people sharing a flat end up signing an agreement with "joint and several liability". This is a common term in tenancy agreements, but the meaning of this phrase is not often explained to people when they sign the tenancy. What it means is that the landlord can choose to pursue one or all of the tenants if one of them stops paying rent.

housingadviceNI: Ask your son to have a read over the tenancy agreement to see if this phrase is included. If it is, your landlord could end up trying to get the other boys to make up the difference in the rent, but the landlord does have the option to sue your son for it instead.

housingadviceNI: Your son could try finding someone else to move into the property and asking the landlord to create a new tenancy with that person's name on the new agreement

housingadviceNI: If that doesn't work, he might want to have a chat with the accommodation officer at the students' union. They might be able to help him resolve whatever problems are happening in the house. Problems with flatmates can sometimes be sorted out with a bit of mediation - if the other boys think that there's a chance that they may end up paying extra rent, they might try to sort out whatever problems are happening in the house.

housingadviceNI: There are some practical tips on sharing a house on our website - might be useful for your son:Practical arrangements | Housing Advice NI

housingadviceNI: You can get your son to ring our advice line too, if he'd rather talk to someone in person about any problems he's having in the house

housingadviceNI: The number is 028 9024 5640 and we're open from 09.30 to 13.30 Monday through Friday

margaret12: Thank you very much. I will pass this all on to him. You have been very helpful.

housingadviceNI: Not a bother - glad to help!

Housing benefit - sudden reduction in housing benefit payment

Rab-69: can u help with housing benifit?

housingadviceNI: Hiya Rab - what do you need to know?

Rab-69: i lost my job a while back and signed on and got housing benifit but now its been cut and the housing said im not entiteld to any more

housingadviceNI: Right - how much housing benefit were you getting and what's it changed to?

Rab-69: i dont know the amounts but the landlord said that all the rnt wuz paid for the last couple of months but this months is short

housingadviceNI: Okay - if you lose your job or something changes in your life that means you're not able to afford your rent anymore you'll often get your full rent paid for the first 13 weeks of your housing benefit claim

housingadviceNI: After that period, you move on to the Local Housing Allowance rate that you're entitled to. How much you get depends on how many people live with you, your age and what part of NI you live in

housingadviceNI: How many people live with you and what are the first 2 letters after BT in your postcode? Please don't write any personal information here since it's visible to everyone who's reading this page

Rab-69: there's me and the wife and 2 kids. bt16

housingadviceNI: are the kids boys or girls and how old are they?

Rab-69: 2 girls 8 and 14

housingadviceNI: Okay that means you're entitled to the 2 bedroom rate of LHA and should get 93.27 a week. This works out at 404 every calendar month - how much is your rent?

Rab-69: 475. dose that mean i have to pay landlord 70 quid a month

housingadviceNI: yeah - you're responsible for paying the extra to your landlord, but you should apply for a discretionary housing payment to help with some of that. There's information on how to do that here:Help if your housing benefit doesn't cover your full rent | Housing Advice NI - would you give us a ring on 028 9024 5460 about this Rab? One of our advisers can go over the form with you and explain what information you need to put on it

Rab-69: will do cheers

Landlord qualifications and training

HRS-Frances: We have another question that has come in via email, asking if landlords in Northern Ireland have to have any kind of qualifications or training?

housingadviceNI: Thanks Frances. Landlords don't need to receive any sort of basic training or qualifications, but they do need to register

housingadviceNI: All landlords have to give their name, address, contact details and details about the properties they rent out to the Landlord Registrar, which is run by the Department for Social Development

housingadviceNI: There's certain stuff your landlord has to give you when you take on a tenancy and those documents should include the landlord's name and home address. Find out more here: Rent book and tenancy statement | Housing Advice NI Landlords who want training can get it from CIH and Smartmove and might also want to go on some of Housing Rights'  training courses. There's also a landlord association in Northern Ireland that can give advice to landlords

housingadviceNI: Landlords who aren't sure about the laws on housing in Northern Ireland or about what they need to do for their tenants can get this information on our website - for free of course! Help and advice for landlords | Housing Advice NI

Agent wouldn't carry out repairs so tenant moved out.  Can landlord keep the deposit?

HRS-Frances: We have had a query through on email from someone who has decided to move out because their agent wouldn't fix the boiler. The agent is now keeping their deposit to cover the next months rent. What advice can we offer this tenant?

housingadviceNI: Right - this pretty much depends on whether or not the tenant gave proper notice to the agent explaining that they were going to move out. You have to give notice in writing if you're going to move out of a property. If this tenant hasn't done that, then the tenancy is still rolling on and rent will continue to be due each month.

housingadviceNI: If the agent doesn't give the money back, the tenant (who moved in in 2011) will have to try to sue the agent and landlord in Small Claims Court to get the money back. They'll need to convince the court that they gave the landlord time to sort out the problem with the boiler and that they explained to the agent/landlord that they'd have to move out of the property if the problem wasn't sorted out. Unfortunately, the judge might decide that if notice to quit wasn't issued, the landlord can keep the deposit
housingadviceNI: I think it would be best if this particular tenant called our advice line on 028 9024 5640 to speak to an adviser

Can I use my deposit to cover the last month's rent?

PaulJ82: Hiya – I’m moving out at the end of October. Everything went grand during the tenancy but the landlord has all of a sudden started to call round and has made comments about some marks on the furniture wall etc. We’ve not damaged the property at all and those marks were there whenever we moved into the property. I think he’s planning on keeping our deposit and is just using this as an excuse. I’ve not paid this month’s rent cause I think he’s going to keep my deposit. Is this okay?
housingadviceNI: You have to keep paying your rent. I understand the temptation to withhold this if you're worried about your deposit, but the law says you need to pay rent for living in the property. Did your landlord give you any information about whether or not your deposit was protected?
PaulJ82: yeah we got some paperwork about a company called TDS
housingadviceNI: That's good news! This means your deposit has been protected. If your landlord does keep your deposit and you think this is unfair, you can ask TDS NI to adjudicate. This means they'll ask both you and the landlord to give your reasons why it's fair or unfair to make deductions from the deposit and they they will decide who the money should go to. Your landlord will need to provide evidence to show that you've caused damage and to show that the amount he is claiming for is fair and reasonable
housingadviceNI: There's more information about getting your deposit back on our website - including the types of situations where a landlord could keep your deposit and information on raising a dispute with a deposit protection company like TDSNI Getting your deposit back | Housing Advice NI