When everyone has a home

Housing advice for Northern Ireland

Legal rights of housing association tenants

The law gives housing association tenants certain rights.  Secure tenants have more rights than introductory tenants.  You are an introductory tenant for the first year of your tenancy.  After 12 months you’ll become a secure tenant. 

Secure, unsecure or introductory tenant?

You need to work out whether you’re a secure tenant an unsecure tenant or an introductory tenant.  You will be an introductory tenant for the first 12 months of your tenancy. 

Introductory tenants can’t

  • apply for a transfer
  • exchange their homes
  • buy their home

If you were a secure tenant of the Housing Executive or a housing association immediately before you moved into your new housing association home, you should keep that secure tenant status.  This will also apply if you’re moving in with someone who was a secure tenant immediately before they moved in with you.

If you rent from a housing association and you share a bathroom, living area or kitchen with other people that aren’t part of your household you could be an unsecure tenant.  An unsecure tenancy may be a license agreement, rather than a tenancy.  Your rights will depend very much on what it says in your contract, so make sure to keep a copy of this. 

Right to stay in your home

Whether you’re a secure tenant or an introductory tenant there are certain steps that have to be followed before your housing association can evict you.

The housing association will usually only try to evict you if there has been a problem with your tenancy; like you haven’t paid your rent or you’ve caused problems with neighbours. Introductory tenants can be evicted as long as

  • the housing association follows the correct procedure and
  • evicting you is a reasonable step to take in light of how you have behaved during your tenancy.

Secure tenants can only be evicted if the housing association gets a court order.  It can apply for a court order if

  • you haven’t paid your rent
  • you haven’t kept the property in good condition
  • you, a member of your family or a visitor to your home has been involved in anti-social behaviour
  • you didn’t tell the truth on your housing application form.

If the your landlord writes to you to tell you that it is going to court to evict you, get in touch with Housing Rights.  Our advisers may be able to help you stay in your home.

Right to pass your home to a family member after you die

Secure tenants have a right to succession.  This means that, if a secure tenant dies, the tenancy can pass to a close relative who lived with the secure tenant for a period of 12 months up until he or she died. If a joint tenant dies, the tenancy will automatically pass to the other joint tenant.  If a sole tenant dies and the tenant’s spouse lived with them at the time of the death the spouse will inherit the tenancy.

If you apply for a succession you will have to provide proof of your relationship to the deceased tenant and you may also have to prove that you lived in the property with the tenant for the last 12 months. 

A tenancy can only be passed on once.  If the tenant who died had inherited the property from a parent or family member the tenancy can’t be passed on again.

If an introductory tenant dies, the introductory tenancy can be passed to the tenant’s spouse or partner or to a family member who has lived with the introductory tenant for the 12 months leading up to the tenant’s death. 

Right to give your tenancy to someone else if you can’t live there anymore

This is known as assignment.  Your housing association will sometimes allow you to pass your tenancy to someone else if you can’t live there anymore.  This can happen if

  • a court order says you can’t live in the property anymore
  • you want to pass your tenancy to someone who would be allowed to inherit the tenancy if you died
  • you are exchanging properties with another tenant.

Sometimes, a tenancy can be assigned to someone else who has been living in the property if:

  • it is impossible for the tenant to continue to act as the tenant
  • the tenant has left and someone else has moved in to look after the tenant’s dependent children
  • the tenant has to go into residential care
  • the tenant has to move into sheltered or supported accommodation.

You’ll usually have to be able to satisfy certain conditions to get a tenancy assigned to you in these circumstances.  Contact Housing Rights for advice if you think this situation applies to you.

Right to take in a lodger

Secure tenants can have a lodger live in their home.  Introductory tenants are not allowed to have lodgers. You don’t need your landlord’s permission as long as you continue to live in the property as well.

Any rent you charge will be part of your household income.  If you receive benefits you’ll need to let the Social Security Agency know about your lodger.  You’ll also have to tell the Housing Executive Housing Benefit Unit how much rent you get if you’re claiming housing benefit.  The amount of benefits you get will probably reduce because of your lodger.

You only have to pay tax on the rental income if you charge the lodger more than £7,500 each year.

Right to sublet part of your home

You can sublet a part of your home, but you need your housing association’s permission in writing.  As you’re the tenant, you have to live in the property as your main home and you can’t sublet the whole property. 

Introductory tenants aren’t allowed to sublet any part of their home.

If you have to leave the property for a period of time, say because you have to go into hospital or go into prison you might be able to claim housing benefit to cover the rent while you’re away.   If this isn’t possible, talk to one of our housing advisers who may be able to help you keep your tenancy while you’re not able to live in the property.

Right to an exchange or swap

Secure tenants can swap properties with another secure Housing Executive or housing association tenant as long as they have their landlord’s permission.

The Housing Executive or housing association won’t always agree to a swap.  There are certain circumstances where permission can be refused. If you’re interested in an exchange, check out Homeswapper.  This is a website that lists all the properties in Northern Ireland and other parts of the UK that are available for swapping.

Right to improve your home

Secure tenants can carry out improvements to the property as long as they get the housing association’s permission first.  Introductory tenants aren’t allowed to carry out any improvements.

Your landlord should only refuse permission for the improvements if it is worried that the work will make the property less safe, reduce the value of the property or make it difficult to let in the future. You will become responsible for future repairs and maintenance of any new improvements you make to the house.  If you install a new shower and it leaks, it’s your responsibility to fix it.

Right to buy

You can apply to buy your housing association home if you’ve been a tenant for 5 years or more.

Right to repair

Your landlord is responsible for carrying out repairs to properties of secure and introductory tenants.  Your tenant handbook or tenancy agreement should clearly explain which repairs are your responsibility and which are the responsibility of the housing association.  You need to make sure that you report a repair properly if your landlord is responsible for sorting out a problem in your home.

Secure tenants have a right to ensure that urgent or emergency repairs which would cost under £250 are completed as a matter of urgency.  If they aren’t you could be entitled to compensation.

Right to information

The law on housing in Northern Ireland also says that all housing association tenants have a right to certain information about their tenancy. This information is normally in your tenancy agreement or Tenants’ Charter.