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Jamie McDonald

November 2017

Northern Ireland is traditionally the slowest part of the UK to adopt new housing legislation. This is a mixed blessing, as we can often learn from the experiences of the early adopters to see what works and what doesn’t (Universal Credit, anyone?). This has been the underpinning ethos of the recent local government review of the Private Rented Sector (PRS) in Northern Ireland. The review looked at various issues in the PRS in England, Scotland, and Wales including rent regulation, landlord licensing, tenant fee ban, and options for alternative dispute resolution for tenants and landlords.

A Proposal for Change document from the Department for Communities was released in January this year and several consultation events took place to gauge the response to the proposals.

Progress is currently stalled with the collapse of the power-sharing government here, however the initial proposals are interesting, particularly the relatively “soft touch” approach to regulation of the sector.

Emphasis is given to educating landlords of good practice through subsidised property management training courses and a dedicated free advice line, and educating tenants of their rights and responsibilities with the introduction of a statutory tenant handbook and advice line; rather than imposing landlord licensing.

The proposals also recognise the flaws in the current eviction legislation, with the suggestion of a fast-track eviction process, and the eschewing of the traditional adversarial approach to resolving landlord/tenant housing disputes with alternative dispute resolution options, with the aim being to solve disputes between tenant and landlord before they result in the tenancy breaking down, and thereby create longer term, stable tenancies.

One proposal, however, is to introduce a regulatory framework for all letting agents, including bringing forward legislation to ban letting agent fees. This provides an opportunity for ARLA Propertymark to offer itself as the regulatory body for letting agents in Northern Ireland but also adds the challenge of fighting the tenant fee ban on yet another front.

The takeaway message from these proposals is that a sensible approach by government, through supportive rather than onerous legislation, and an even-handed treatment of landlords and tenants, can provide fertile ground to grow and sustain a healthy, fit-for-purpose private rented sector.

Jamie McDonald MARLA
ARLA Propertymark Regional Representative