The Rent Officer in Northern Ireland is responsible for maintaining a register of all protected and rent controlled tenancies. In certain circumstances, a tenancy may be protected but may not appear on the register because the Rent Officer hasn't been made aware of it yet.
Your first step in finding out whether a tenancy is protected should be the Rent Officer. 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, you may still be able to prove that it is a protected tenancy by investigating whether it meets some specific criteria and providing evidence to the Rent Officer.
Protected tenancy test
There are certain conditions which a tenancy must satisfy in order to be protected. You will need to know the rental history of the property and the rateable value of the property in 1978. You should also find out what the 2007 rateable value is. Protected tenancies are usually properties which are in a fairly poor condition and tenancies which were in place before the Private Tenancies Order was enacted in April 2007. The 2007 rateable value can be a good indicator of whether the property was in a poor condition at that time. You can get information about the rateable value of the property from Land & Property Services.
The tenancy is likely to be protected if:
- you've been living in the property since 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 properties where:
- the NAV of the property is over £140 and the landlord has 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.
Your landlord must be able to provide evidence to the Rent Officer if any of these exemptions apply to the tenancy. The Rent Officer will assume that a tenancy is protected unless there is evidence to show that it is not. The burden of proof is on a landlord to show that a tenancy is not protected.
Housing benefit of £1 per week
The Housing Executive will normally only pay £1 per week of housing benefit towards protected tenancies. If you are a protected tenant and your benefit has been restricted, your landlord cannot legally require you to pay any top up payments. Speak to an adviser if your landlord is trying to make you pay extra rent on top of your housing benefit.
The landlord can apply to the Rent Officer for a rent determination. The Rent Officer will assess the condition of the property and may decide to increase the rent. You and your landlord will be notified of any change to the rent by the Rent Officer. You or your landlord will be responsible for notifying the Housing Executive of any change in the rent. If you do not notify the Housing Executive you will be personally responsible for any shortfall owing to your landlord that is not covered by housing benefit.
Both you and your landlord 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. Speak to an adviser if you have any questions about rent for protected tenancies.