When everyone has a home

Housing advice for Northern Ireland

Right to evict

You have a right to seek possession of your property back from your tenants if they have broken the terms of the tenancy agreement, have fallen into rent arrears or are periodic tenants. In exercising this right, you must follow due process of law.

If you do not follow all the legal steps required to regain possession of your property, you could be prosecuted and fined for carrying out an illegal eviction.  If your tenant is a protected tenant, you will usually have to cite one of the specific mandatory or discretionary grounds for possession of protected tenancies in order to evict the tenant.

Regaining possession during a fixed term tenancy

If your tenants are fixed term tenants, meaning that there is a valid tenancy agreement with a tenancy end date in place, you can only begin eviction proceedings if they have breached the terms of the tenancy agreement or have fallen behind with their rent payments. If you have had an altercation with the tenant, but the tenant has remained within the terms of the tenancy agreement, you will have to wait until the tenancy agreement expires to serve notice.

If a tenant has fallen into rent arrears, you should contact the tenant before starting eviction proceedings as there may be a genuine reason for their failure to pay. The tenant may have recently been made redundant or there may be a delay in processing a housing benefit claim.

Regaining possession during periodic tenancy

If your tenants have become periodic and are now renting the property on a month to month basis, you do not need to have reasons to begin eviction proceedings. Similarly, your tenants do not have to have a reason to give you notice that they intend to leave the property.

Both parties must serve the minimum legal Notice to Quit in writing. If your tenants leave without giving you the correct amount of notice, they can be held liable for rent for the legal notice period they are required to give.

Serving a Notice to Quit

When serving a Notice to Quit on tenants, you must make sure that your notice is of the appropriate length. The amount of notice you are required to give tenants depends on how long they have been renting the property from you.

  • If the tenancy has been of less than 5 years' duration you must give the tenants 4 weeks' notice.
  • If the tenancy has been between 5 and 10 years in duration you must give the tenants 8 weeks' notice.
  • If the tenancy has been in existence for longer than 10 years you must give the tenants 12 weeks' notice.

The Notice must be in writing and should include a date by which you expect the tenants to have vacated the property. If you issue a Notice to Quit to your tenants you must keep a copy for your own records. You should contact your tenants to make sure that they have received the notice.

If your tenants are periodic and their tenancy agreement has expired you do not need to include a reason in your Notice to Quit.  If they are still within the period of their contract you will have to show that they have breached the agreement and should specify how they have breached it in your Notice.  If you fail to do this, the court may dismiss your possession claim and insist you serve a new and proper Notice on the tenant. 

In most cases, your tenants will leave amicably by the date outlined in the Notice to Quit. However, in some cases your tenants may not have left the property by that date. If this happens, you will have to apply for a court order to regain possession of the house.

Getting a court order for possession

If the notice to quit period has passed and the tenant is still in the property you need to apply for a court order. Unless you have experience of legal procedures, you should instruct a solicitor at this stage.

Your solicitor will serve a civil bill on your tenant. This bill should include your grounds for seeking possession of the property; any claim for outstanding rent or damages and it should indicate whether you are seeking costs from the tenant if you are successful in court.

The tenant has 21 days to respond and can file a Notice of intention to defend. The case will be allocated a hearing date at the County Court which has jurisdiction in the area in which the property is located. Whether the case is defended or not, you or your agent must attend the court hearing to put forward your case.

If you have followed the legal process correctly can prove your case the judge will most likely grant an order for possession of the property. If you have asked that costs be included in your claim the judge will probably award these. You may not receive costs if your tenant's defence is being paid for by Legal Aid.

Enforcement of Judgements Office

Once the County Court judge grants an Order for Possession, your tenant may leave the property. If the tenant continues to occupy the property you must serve a Notice of Intent to Enforce on the tenant. There is a fee of £20 associated with this notice.

The Enforcement of Judgements Office will serve this notice on your tenant. The tenant will usually have 10 days to respond to this notice. At this stage the tenant may move out. If the tenant does not respond to this notice and remains in this property you must make an Application for Full Enforcement. You will usually have to pay a fee to have the order enforced.

Once you have applied for full enforcement of the possession order, an enforcement officer will be appointed to recover possession of the property and any sum owed to you.

It can take a long time to evict a tenant so it is important that you act quickly if your tenant does not move out when a Notice to Quit expires.

Tenants who refuse to leave a property when they have no legal right to remain are unlikely to be viewed sympathetically by the courts. If your tenants are concerned about where to go when their notice expires, encourage them to get advice on their housing options.

Illegal evictions

Attempting to remove your tenants from the property in any way, other than the tenants leaving voluntarily or getting a court order is an illegal eviction.  You cannot change the locks on the property or remove the tenants' belongings from the property, regardless of how poorly you believe they have behaved.

Carrying out an illegal eviction is an offence.  You can be prosecuted and fined if you attempt this.

If a tenant leaves voluntarily, you must ask them to confirm this in writing.  You cannot assume that a tenant has surrendered the property and should always get a court order returning possession to you, if there is any doubt about the tenant's intention to return.