All rented properties must, at the very least, meet the basic fitness standard. This means they must be fit for human habitation. If your tenants are unhappy with the standard of the property they are renting, they can request that the Environmental Health Department of the local council inspect the property to judge if it is fit and in a satisfactory state of repair. The Environmental Health Officer will assess the property against the fitness standard and can compel you to carry out repairs if the property is not up to standard.
Basic fitness standard
The Fitness Standard that is applied to private rented housing in Northern Ireland is set out in the Housing (NI) Order 1981 and was amended in 1992.
In order to be described as fit, a property must:
- be structurally stable,
- be free from serious disrepair,
- be free from dampness which could damage your health, this will not include condensation,
- have adequate provision for lighting, heating and ventilation,
- have an adequate piped supply of wholesome water,
- have enough space and facilities to prepare and cook food, including a sink,
- have a suitably located toilet for the exclusive use of the occupants,
- have a wash hand basin and either a bath or shower with hot and cold water, and
- have effective, working drains.
It is worth noting that this is the basic standard. Most private landlords in Northern Ireland maintain their properties at a much higher standard than this.
If your property meets the basic standard, but on inspecting the property an Environmental Health Officer feels there is a level of disrepair in the property, the local council can compel you to carry out improvements to the property by serving a statutory Notice of Disrepair or a Notice of Unfitness on you.
Notification of council inspection
The council must notify the tenant of the property in writing, giving at least 24 hours' advance notice, of its intention to carry out an inspection of the property. This notice must also be given to you if the council is aware that you are the owner of the property.
In carrying out its investigations, the council will first check if it has any information on the property owner in its own records. If the council has no record of the property owner, the Environmental Health Officer will check the Land Registry records to establish who the owner of the property is.
If your property was built before November 1956 you will need to request a fitness inspection within 28 days of renting it out. If any of the following apply to the property, it is a prescribed dwelling and does not require a certificate of fitness.
- The property was constructed between 1 January 1945 and 6 November 1956
- The property has been subject to a renovation grant, paid by the Housing Executive within the past 10 years
- The property has been subject to a HMO grant, paid by the Housing Executive, within the past 10 years
- The property is registered with the Housing Executive as a HMO within the past 10 years
- The property was previously let as a protected tenancy which was subject to a regulated rent certificate within the past ten years.
Your local council should be able to tell you if a regulated rent certificate was issued against the property in the last 10 years. The Housing Executive should be able to inform you whether a grant has been issued against the property and whether it has been registered as a HMO. Check your property deeds to find out when the property was built.
Failing the fitness inspection
If your property does not meet the fitness standard the council will try to deal with this issue informally and encourage you to carry out improvements to the property. If you don't respond to the informal warning, the council can serve you with a Notice of Unfitness.
This notice will include a list of repairs which you must carry out to bring the property up to standard and a time schedule during which this work should be completed. The deadline for completing the work should be at least 21 days from the date on the Notice. Your tenants will also receive a copy of this notice.
If your property was built before November 1956 and isn't a prescribed dwelling the amount of rent you can charge your tenants could be restricted if your property is not fit. If the property comes under rent control the Rent Officer will decide how much rent can be charged. To remove the rent control restrictions, you must bring the property up to standard and apply for a further inspection of the property. Your council can charge a reinspection fee of £100. Once a Certificate of Fitness is issued against the property, the rent control will be lifted.
Passing the fitness inspection, but in a state of disrepair
If the council believes that the property is not in a satisfactory state of repair, even though it meets the fitness standard it can issue a Notice of Disrepair. A copy of this Notice should also be given to any tenants.
The Notice of Disrepair will specify a list of repairs which you must carry out to improve the property and a time schedule in which this work should be done. You should be given a deadline for carrying out this work, which must be at least 21 days from the date of the notice. The tenant will also receive a copy of the statutory notice. The council should revisit the property after the deadline for repairs has passed to check if the work has been carried out to a satisfactory level. If you have not carried out the work, the council may decide to take enforcement action against you and you may end up in a costly court case.
Properties which have been served with a Notice of Disrepair won't become rent-controlled.