The Rent Officer in Northern Ireland is responsible for maintaining a register of all protected tenancies. Although no new protected tenancies have been created since 2007, a protected tenancy may exist which the Rent Officer does not yet know about.
Many landlords only find out that a property is a protected tenancy after purchasing or inheriting the property. If you are thinking about buying a property to let which has a sitting tenant, make sure your solicitor investigates whether this is a protected tenancy.
Your first step in finding out whether a tenancy is protected should be the Register of Rents for Northern Ireland. The Rent Officer keeps a record of all known protected tenancies. The Rent Register is published online and contains details of all known protected tenancies, including the property condition and the maximum rent which can lawfully be charged.
If the property does not appear on the Rent Register, a tenant may still be able to prove to the Rent Officer that their tenancy is protected by investigating and showing that it meets a number of conditions.i
Protected tenancy test
There are certain conditions which a tenancy must satisfy in order to be protected. To show that a tenancy is protected, the applicant will need to know the rental history of the property and the rateable value of the property in 1978. The applicant can also use the rateable value of the property in 2007 as an indicator of the property's condition jsut before 1 April 2007. You can get information about the rateable value of the property from Land & Property Services.
The tenancy is likely to be protected if:
- the tenancy began before 1 April 2007
- the property was built or converted for letting before 1956, (extensions do not count as conversions)
- the property was first rented out before 1978
- there was a tenancy in place in the property in October 1978.
In some cases, a property may not qualify as a protected tenancy, even if the all the above conditions apply. These exceptions include:
- the NAV of the property is over £140 and you have obtained vacant possession since October 1978
- the property was owned by the Crown, Government or the Housing Executive in October 1978
- the tenancy was let as a condition of someone's job in October 1978, for example a resident caretaker
- the property was let with a large amount of land before 1978.
If you feel that any of these exceptions apply to your property, you must supply evidence to the Rent Officer to prove this. If you cannot supply proof, the Rent Office will assume the property is a protected tenancy.
Housing benefit of £1 per week
If you have purchased or inherited a property which is a protected tenancy, you may be surprised to only receive rent of £1 per week for this property. This can happen where a protected tenant is receiving housing benefit to assist with housing costs.
If your tenant's housing benefit has been restricted in this way you cannot ask the tenant to make top-up payments to you. However, you can apply to the Rent Office for a rent determination. The Rent Officer will assess the condition of the property and can increase the rent. You and your tenant will be notified of any change to the rent by the Rent Officer. Responsibility for notifying the Housing Executive of any change to the rent lies with you and your tenant.
Both you and your tenant have a right to make an appeal to the Rent Assessment Committee if you disagree with any decisions made by the Rent Officer. You must request an appeal within 14 days of being notified of the Rent Officer's decision.