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We respond to Northern Ireland proposals for private rented sector

Wednesday 12 April 2017

Back in January the Department for Communities published proposals for significant changes to the sector including introducing Agent Regulation, subjecting all unfit properties built before 1956 to rent control and banning letting agent fees.

According to the Department, “The aim of the review is to consider the current and potential future role of the sector and assess the effectiveness of current regulation, identifying where improvements can be made to help make the private rented sector a more attractive housing option.”

This public consultation document was the second stage in the Communities Department’s Review of the Role and Regulation of the Private Rented Sector. The consultation closed on 3 April 2017.

We've now submitted our response on The proposals which included extending Notice Periods, creating a fast track eviction service, creating a landlord advice line, making tenant information packs mandatory, making Smoke and Carbon Monoxide alarms mandatory and creating Minimum Energy Performance Standards.

We split our comments and proposals down into five key sections that mirror those of the consultation document:

  • Supply
    To improve supply local authorities to include institutional investors in the housing strategies, on proposals for housing associations to have greater involvement in the private rented sector, they'd need the knowledge and experience of letting agents, not Housing Officers. They also need to consider tax breaks to encourage more buy-to-let landlords. 

  • Affordability
    We agree with DfC that rent increases should only happen once in any 12 month period, but argue that landlords should be free to adjust the rent at the 12 month period according to market conditions. 

  • Security of Tenure
    We agree with proposals that all tenancies should have a written agreement with mandatory terms. However, we argue that Notice to Quit period in the case of a tenant with rent arrears should be kept at four weeks, not the eight weeks that DfC propose. 

  • Tenancy Management
    We strongly disagree that letting agent fees in Northern Ireland should be banned, but believe that fees should be open, transparent and reasonable.

    We'd like to see the Northern Ireland Government produce a How to Rent guide similar to the one which must be served on all new tenancies in England.

    We're content for a fitness declaration to be introduced at the point of registration for landlords.

    In our proposal we also call on the Government to introduce mandatory CMP for agents (we've recently won our campaign to get this introduced in England), independent auditing of client accounts, and professional qualifications. We'd also like to see a scheme similar to the London Rental Standard or Scottish legislation put on the statute books. 

  • Property standards
    We welcome proposals to introduce mandatory smoke and carbon monoxide installation and testing, and periodic electrical checks, as long as realistic timeframes are given to allow agents and landlords time to comply. 

    We also welcome the introduction of legislation around Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) ratings, but suggest that the Government consider a scheme which supports landlords in making some improvements.

    We agree that all unfit properties built before 1956 should be subject to rent control (currently 1945).  

  • Dispute resolution
    We're in favour that retrospective protection be introduced so that deposits will be protected irrespective of the date the tenancy started. Agents should have 28 days to protect deposits. 

What happens next?

The Department will set out how the agreed proposals will be implemented over the rest of the Assembly mandate, including any necessary legislation. Any new commitments will be subject to a regulatory impact assessment.