The basic minimum standard for properties in the private rented sector in Northern Ireland is known as the Fitness Standard. All properties must meet this minimum standard. In some cases, properties which do not meet the standard can be placed under rent control. This is to encourage the landlord to bring the property up to standard.
The Fitness Standard for 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
- 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 either a bath or shower with hot and cold water, and
- have effective, working drains.
If you think that the property you are renting does not meet this standard, you should contact your local Environmental Health Office and ask them to inspect the property.
All rental properties in Northern Ireland have to meet the fitness standard. You can ask the council to inspect your property if you think it's not fit for habitation. You may have to pay a fee of £50 for this service. Some local councils may waive this fee where a tenant requests the inspection.
Contact your local council if you want an Environmental Health Officer to inspect the property. If you're not sure which council your property is in, try entering your postcode into the Northern Ireland Neighbourhood Information Service’s postcode tool.
If you think your property is unfit or there are repairs which need to be done, it's best to discuss this with your landlord before involving the council. You have a responsibility to report any problems with the property to your landlord.
Carrying out the inspection
The local council will carry out a fitness inspection if it is satisfied that the property needs one from the information supplied in the application form. If the council is going to inspect a property, it needs to notify the occupier of the house in writing at least 24 hours before the inspection is due to happen. If the council knows who owns the property, it must also tell the owner about the inspection.
Properties which require a Certificate of Fitness
Certain properties in Northern Ireland must have a Certificate of Fitness in order to be let to tenants at a market rent. A certificate is issued if the property passes a fitness inspection carried out by the local council.
If the property doesn't pass the inspection the council will issue a Notice of Refusal to Issue a Certificate of Fitness. The council will notify the Rent Officer and the Housing Executive that a Notice of Refusal has been issued. The Rent Officer will then restrict the amount of rent that you have to pay for the property. The Notice will include a list of works that the landlord will need to do in order to get a Certificate of Fitness. The landlord isn't under any obligation to carry out these repairs, but won't be able to charge a market rent until the condition of the property improves and the property is given a Certificate of Fitness. Until then, the tenancy will be a rent controlled tenancy.
If your property needs to have a Certificate of Fitness and does not have one and your tenancy began after 1 April 2007, your landlord must apply to the district council for a fitness inspection of the premises within 28 days of the start of your tenancy.
Properties subject to rent control are those that have failed the fitness inspection and have not been granted a Certificate of Fitness by the local council. If a property fails a fitness inspection, the tenancy in that property is subject to rent control unless the landlord carries out all of the repair works set out in the notice.
If you are a tenant in one of these types of properties, the Rent Officer shall determine the level of rent you should pay until the property passes the fitness inspection. If you're in receipt of housing benefit, the amount of benefit you receive will be restricted until the landlord carries out work to bring the property up to standard.
Protected and statutory tenancies are always subject to a form of rent control, regardless of the state of repair.
Prescribed dwellings don't need a Certificate of Fitness
There are some properties, known as prescribed dwellings, which don't need to have this certificate. A property doesn't need a Certificate of Fitness if
- it was built after 1 January 1945
- it has had a renovation grant paid in the last 10 years
- a HMO grant was paid in respect of the property in the last 10 years
- it has been registered as a HMO in the last 10 years
- a regulated rent certificate has been issued in respect of the property in the last 10 years.
Where a property has had a renovation grants, HMO grants or regulated rent certificates issued more than 10 years ago a landlord will need to apply for a Certificate of Fitness unless the property meets one of the other exclusions.
You can ask the council to inspect a prescribed dwelling to make sure it is fit for human habitation and that it isn't a health or safety risk. The council can charge up to £50 for an inspection, but won't normally charge a tenant for this service. If the council finds problems in the property it can issue a Notice of Unfitness or a Notice of Disrepair.
Notice of Unfitness
The council can issue a Notice of Unfitness if
- the property is unfit for human habitation or
- the property is a flat and the common parts of the building are unfit.
The Notice of Unfitness will explain that the council believes the property is unfit and include a list of works that the landlord must carry out by a specified date in order to make the property fit for human habitation. The Notice will be served on the owner of the property or the landlord's agent. If the landlord hasn't started working on the repairs by the date in the notice the council can take legal action against the landlord.
Notice of disrepair
The council can issue a Notice of Disrepair if a property is fit for human habitation but
- substantial repairs are needed to bring the property up to a reasonable standard, bearing in mind the age, character and locality of the property or
- the condition of the house is materially interfering with the personal comfort of the tenant or
- the property is a flat and the common parts of the building need substantial repairs or their condition is materially interfering with the personal comfort of the tenant.
The council won't issue this notice if the problems are mainly decorative. The Notice of Disrepair will explain that the council believes the property requires certain repairs and will include a list of works that the landlord must carry out by a specified date in order to make the property fit for human habitation. The Notice will be served on the owner of the property or the landlord's agent. If the landlord hasn't started working on the repairs by the date in the notice the council can take legal action against the landlord.
Before issuing a Notice of Disrepair or a Notice of Unfitness, the council may first write to the landlord informally and suggest that certain works are carried out to the property. If you've requested a fitness inspection, but haven't heard anything back from the council, get in touch with them to find out what action they've taken to deal with the problem. If they had dealt with the matter informally, let them know that the landlord hasn't acted on their recommendations. The council may then be able to take more formal legal action against the landlord.