Private tenants will not be evicted during the coronavirus crisis, communities minister says

Private tenants will not be evicted during the coronavirus crisis, communities minister Deirdre Hargey has said
Michael McHugh, Press Association

Housing tenants will not be evicted during the coronavirus outbreak, Stormont's communities minister said.

Courts are not hearing eviction cases during the pandemic.

Stormont's Communities Committee today agreed to the speedy passage of the Private Tenancies Bill after hearing from minister Deirdre Hargey via a remote connection.

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"We know through our engagements with the Court Service that there won't be evictions, they won't be listing evictions hearings at this time," Ms Hargey said.

"That is something we want to push further on and that is why we are bringing this legislation forward.

"We are in a public health emergency.

"They have a responsibility to protect people as well."

Housing minister Deirdre Hargey

Alliance MLA Kellie Armstrong said: "This is a very welcome piece of legislation."

She said some tenants on fixed term contracts were being told they must pay outstanding debt or their credit rating will be affected.

The SDLP's Mark H Durkan, an MLA for Foyle, said some landlords had paid off their mortgages and were reliant on rental income as their only form of support.

He said it was important to recognise that many landlords are showing goodwill and engaging positively with tenants to find a resolution.

Magee campus of Ulster University is within his constituency and he has been "inundated" with queries from students in housing and financial stress due to coronavirus.

"Many students have been forced to move out of student accommodation, have lost their job and income source, and have had to move home," he said.

"It is not acceptable that students should have to continue paying rent for accommodation that is not being used, through no fault of their own.

"The Communities Minister should urgently consider implementing rent suspension through the duration of this crisis and penalty-free termination of housing contracts.

"A rent freeze would also be appropriate to ensure that when this pandemic ends, landlords cannot unfairly increase the rent for next year."

NUS-USI President Robert Murtagh said many students were struggling financially, adding that all unemployed students should be able to apply for Universal Credit.

He also called for a rent freeze for the duration of the pandemic.

"Asking landlords to be lenient is quite simply not enough," he said.

"We need the government to step in and enforce a rent suspension for the duration of the crisis, penalty-free termination of contracts, a rent freeze and for these measures to be backdated to the start of March."

Meanwhile, North Belfast MLA Caral Ni Chuilin called for a hardship fund to be set up for students.

The Sinn Fein politician said: "Students are falling between the nets.

"We hear about the landlords and through their letting agents that are applying undue pressure."

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