Councils in Northern Ireland will have new powers to crack down on unscrupulous landlords from April, including handing out fines of up to £500 to those breaking the rules.
The Private Tenancies Act (NI) 2022 received royal assent last April and sets out a range of new rules to protect tenants.
One of the regulations relates to tenancy information notices, which are legal documents that provide tenants and landlords with information regarding their respective rights and responsibilities. They can contain information on deposits, payable rent and the responsibility for repairs.
Under the Act, landlords have to give these notices to their tenants within 28 days of them moving in.
Another rule is that is landlords are now required to provide a written receipt of any payment made in cash in relation to a tenancy
New regulations also relate to tenancy deposits. Under the rules a landlord cannot ask for or retain a tenancy deposit that is more than one month’s rent.
According to Belfast City Council briefing documents: “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 issue a fixed penalty notice or fine for this offence.
“The amount of the fixed penalty notice will be determined by councils and cannot exceed £500. If the landlord is convicted by a court the penalty will be a fine not exceeding level 4 on the standard scale (currently £2,500).
“If a landlord is convicted of requiring or retaining a deposit in excess of one month’s rent, the court may order the excess to be repaid to the person who paid it.”
The Act also changes the length of “notice to quit” periods, which are notices requiring a tenant to vacate a property. Under the new rules, if they have been in the property for less than a year, landlords must give them at least four weeks notice.
For those renting for more than a year but less than a decade, the notice to quit has to be issued within eight weeks. For those in a property for more than a decade, landlords must give tenants at least 12 weeks’ notice to vacate a property.
According to the briefing documents: “The Private Tenancies Act will provide councils with new enforcement powers to deal with issues in the private rented sector which will place additional resources demands on our existing resources.
“There is no financial support available from the Department for Communities (DfC) to assist councils with these additional powers.”
Speaking last year when the tenancy bill was backed by the Assembly, Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey said protecting tenants is one of her priorities.
“I will ensure we build further on the rent controls already secured. This bill will deliver important protections with more reform to come,” she said.