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  • Writer's pictureMichael Kenwood (Local Democracy Reporter)

Northern Ireland councils to get new powers to fine dodgy landlords

Northern Ireland councils are to get new powers to penalise dishonest landlords.

From April this year, councils will be able to fine private landlords £500 if they are found to be exploiting their tenants, on a range of issues including tenancy deposits, receipts, and notice to quit a tenancy.

At the recent meeting of Belfast City Council’s People and Communities Committee, elected representatives were updated on powers for councils resulting from the Stormont Department for Communities Private Tenancies Act, 2022.

Councillors were asked to note the legislation, which introduces 11 new clauses to the 2006 act. They also agreed to set a fixed penalty level of £500. If landlords fail to pay the council fixed penalty they will be prosecuted at court, where penalties for the same offence can be up to £2,500.

The new act makes the failure to protect a tenancy deposit a continuing offence and removes the six month time limit on prosecutions. The result of this is that there will be no time barrier on prosecuting a landlord who fails to comply with regulations.

Depending on the length of the tenancy, a landlord must now give their tenant a minimum notice-to-quit period. For tenancies lasting up to 12 months there must be a order to quit of no less than 4 weeks’ written notice, for tenancies of 12 months to ten years there must be a order to quit of no less than 8 weeks’ written notice, and tenancies above ten years must receive no less than 12 weeks written notice.

Landlords will be obliged to give renters tenancy information notices – legal documents including information on rights and responsibilities, with information on deposits, rent payments, repairs etc.

It is also a requirement now for a landlord to provide a written receipt for any payment made in cash in relation to a tenancy. If a landlord or their representative/agent commits an offence by failing to provide the receipt for cash payments, the council may issue a £500 fine.

Under the new act if a landlord has unlawfully requested or retained a tenancy deposit of more than one month’s rent, they are guilty of an offence. A council can again issue a £500 fine for this offence.

The time limit for a deposit to be protected in an approved scheme has changed from 14 days to 28 days, and landlords have additional time to provide the prescribed information to the tenant from 28 days to 35 days.

If a landlord or agent fails to protect the deposit or notify a tenant of the deposit information, then they will be guilty of an offence.

The Council may issue a fixed penalty three times the value of the deposit taken if not returned to the tenant. If convicted of this offence, the landlord is liable for a fine up to £20,000.

At the Belfast Council People and Communities Committee, committee chair Alliance Councillor Mickey Murray said:

“For too long landlords have been getting away with things through bad legislation, including the six month deposit legislation. I think the maximum fines should be increased, £500 for landlords is nothing.”

Green Councillor Anthony Flynn said:

“While it is a good piece of legislation, it is very, very limited as to what we actually need to reform the private rented sector in this country, which is absolutely horrendous for people out there, particularly at this time of year.”

The council report states:

“It should be noted that there are still a number of provisions which require further consultation and members will be provided with an update when we receive the Department for Communities consultation papers.”

It adds: “There is no financial support available from the Department for Communities to assist councils with these additional powers. The fixed penalty regime introduced for some of the new offences may provide some income but it will not cover the additional staffing and administrative resources required.”

The council agreed to write to the Stormont apartment asking for extra funds to deal with the new powers, and reviews on the legislation looking at fixed penalty amounts.


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