Renting privately is more flexible than other forms of housing. You can move into a place quickly, accommodation is often furnished to a good standard and you're not tied to a property for a long period of time. On the other hand, renting privately can be expensive, you don't usually have any long term rights to stay in the property and the availability and type of accommodation can vary widely throughout Northern Ireland.
Tenancies in Northern Ireland
A small number of tenants in Northern Ireland are known as protected tenants. These tenants have different rights to other private tenants but often live in quite poor housing . Protected tenants cannot be evicted as easily as other tenants and also usually have a lower rent than other types of tenancies in the private rented sector. It can be difficult to work out if you're a protected tenant or not, but you definitely won't be one if you moved into your privately rented home after 1 April 2007.
Most tenancies are not protected. The conditions of these tenancies are usually set out in the tenancy agreement that the tenant has agreed with the landlord or agent.
Rights of private tenants
You have basic rights no matter what type of tenancy you have. All tenants have:
- the right to a rent book containing the landlord's name and amount of rent due
- the right to freedom from harassment and illegal eviction
- the right to at least 28 days' notice to quit and due process of law (your landlord must go to court before you have to leave your home)
If your tenancy began after 1 April 2007 there are also some additional rights:
- if there is no fixed term stipulated in your tenancy agreement or if there is no tenancy agreement, a tenancy term of 6 months shall apply to your tenancy
- if responsibilities for repairs are not clear, repairing obligations apply to both the landlord and you.
This chart explains the rights that apply to different types of tenancy.
You should get a tenancy agreement from your landlord before moving in. A tenancy agreement is a legal contract so you should read it carefully before signing.
You should look out for:
- the amount of rent to be paid and when the rate is due
- how much the rates are and who is responsible for the rates
- the length of the tenancy
- who is responsible for repairs
- the amount of the deposit and what the deposit can be used for at the end of the tenancy
- any restrictions on your tenancy (pets or taking in lodgers)
If your tenancy began after 1 April 2007 and you do not have a tenancy agreement or if that agreement doesn't have sufficient detail, certain repairing obligations may apply. A default tenancy term of 6 months may also apply in these circumstances
Deposits and rent in advance
Most landlords will ask for the equivalent of a month's rent as a security deposit and a month's rent in advance before you move into the property. You may be able to get help with the rent in advance by applying to the Discretionary Finance Support Fund.
Your landlord is entitled to ask for a deposit but you should make sure you know what the deposit is for. Make sure your landlord tells you when your deposit will be returned to you and in what circumstances he can keep it. Any deposit paid after 1 April 2013 must be protected in an authorised tenancy deposit scheme.
Paying for your accommodation
Private tenants have the right to apply for housing benefit. Housing benefit may not cover all your rent. You will have to make up the rest of your rent from your wages, other benefits or training scheme allocation.
You can be evicted if you don't pay your rent. However, your landlord should give you at least 28 days' notice. Your landlord will usually have to get a court order before you have to leave your accommodation.
Living in shared accommodation
If you share your accommodation with people who aren't family members you may be entitled to specific safety standards and protection from overcrowding. You may be entitled to more protection if you live:
- in a bedsit
- in a shared house
- in a hostel or bed and breakfast
- with a family as a lodger
- in a self-contained flat.
Ending a tenancy
Many private tenants leave their accommodation because their tenancy agreement was for a fixed period which has ended. You may want to leave your tenancy because you are having problems with:
- your accommodation
- your landlord
- you neighbours
- people you share with
- paying the rent.
Landlords can't force a tenant to leave unless they follow specific legal procedures. Tenants can usually only leave their tenancy before the end of the agreement if they get the landlord's consent. If you walk out on a tenancy you may have to pay rent even though you are no longer living there.