Landlords and tenants: know your rights
OUR homes provide a sense of security and privacy, and Covid-19 has resulted in us having to stay at home in an attempt to reduce the spread of the virus.
But not everyone 'owns' the house in which they live. The private rented sector is the second most common type of property after owner-occupied property. So does the current situation have any implications for those who rent?
Renting privately continues to grow as a popular choice of housing for many in Northern Ireland with 18 per cent of people in this sector. This is mainly because mortgage lenders typically ask for a deposit of at least 10 per cent of the property value and given the average house price of £140,000, borrowers may not yet have sufficient savings to consider mortgage applications.
When renting, the property is owned by a landlord who then leases it to a tenant. This contractual arrangement is based on exclusive possession for the tenant and will provide for the payment of a rent and be for a period of time known as the term. The term is usually for a fixed period, and upon expiry of that term becomes a periodic tenancy continuing to run for successive weekly, monthly or yearly periods until terminated.
Landlord and tenant relationships consist of respective rights and obligations. These still exist, regardless of the present circumstances. For example, landlords have a duty to carry out necessary repairs as tenants have a right to a safe place to live. Landlords need permission to enter the property, except in emergency situations posing risks of immediate injury or significant damage to the property, such as gas, water or electrical, issues. If such work is needed, everyone present should adhere to social distancing for their own safety.
Tenants remain contractually obliged to pay the rent during the ongoing pandemic. Tenants may ask their landlords to accept a reduced rental contribution, defer payments or to agree to use a deposit to cover a month's rent. However, a landlord is under no obligation to accept any such proposals.
For landlords wishing to end a tenancy, it is essential to provide tenants with prior written notice. Usually at least four weeks' notice is required for tenancies less than five years, eight weeks, for those between five and 10 years and 12 weeks for any tenancy over 10 years old.
The Private Tenancies (Coronavirus Modifications) Act came into force in Northern Ireland on May 5. As a result, a landlord must during the current period give at least 12 weeks' notice in all cases. In challenging times, this temporary measure provides a greater degree of protection and safety for tenants, pre-venting additional challenges for social housing and local authorities.
Landlords must obtain a possession order from the courts before they can forcibly evict tenants on expiry of the notice period. This is problematic for Landlords at the moment as possession pro-ceedings have been adjourned except for urgent matters for example instances concerning anti-social behaviour.
It is recommended that, where possible, landlords do not initiate possession proceedings but rather discuss any issues with tenants, adopting a reasonable, pragmatic approach. If you are a landlord or tenant and have any concerns about your tenancy, you should contact a solicitor for specific advice on the matter.
Don Thompson (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a partner at McKees (www.mckees-law.com) specialising in property and landlord and tenant issues.