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028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

New legislation extends notice to quit periods to 12 weeks

Notice to quit picture

From 5 May 2020 until 30 September 2020 any notice to quit issued by a landlord of a private tenancy must be given to the tenant at least 12 weeks' in advance of the date on which it takes effect. 

Housing Rights welcomes the official passage of emergency legislation which gives private renters enhanced protection against eviction during the period of Covid19.

The Private Tenancies (Coronavirus Modifications) Act (Northern Ireland) 2020 was passed by the NI Assembly on the 28th April and came into effect on 5th May 2020. The law means that, from 5th May, the minimum notice period a private landlord can give to a tenant is 12 weeks.

How does the new Act help private renters?

Importantly, this change provides private renters with additional protection from eviction during the crisis. In Northern Ireland, landlords can start eviction proceedings against a tenant with as little as 4 weeks' notice, and in many cases the landlord isn't required to evidence any breach of tenancy terms. Where the original tenancy has expired and the tenant is now on a rolling month-by-month arrangement, the landlord simply has to follow the correct process to recover possession of the property. 

This Act will extend the amount of notice to which all tenants are entitled to 12 weeks, allowing tenants time to negotiate agreements with their landlords to allow them to stay on in their current homes or adequate opportunity to locate alternative accommodation. 

Do tenants have to give 12 weeks notice to their landlord?

The Act only applies to notice given by a landlord. A tenant can still end a tenancy by providing the relevant amount of notice set out in the Private Tenancies (NI) Order 2006. The length of notice varies depending on how long the tenancy has been in existence. 

Does the legislation apply to notice to quit served before 5 May 2020?

The legislation is not retrospective. It only applies to a notice received on or after 5 May 2020. Tenants who have been issued with notice to quit before that date will be entitled to a minimum of

  • 4 weeks' notice if the tenancy has existed for less than 5 years
  • 8 weeks' notice for tenancies of between 5 and 10 years duration
  • 12 weeks' notice for tenancies which have been in place for 10 years or longer. 

However, notice to quit is simply the first stage in the eviction process. Where a tenant does not voluntarily leave the property on expiry of the notice, the landlord must apply to court for a possession order. Courts are still providing a heavily restricted service and have advised the Department for Communities that they will not be dealing with routine possession applications during this service restriction. The Department for Communities guidance to landlords and tenants continually stressed that landlords are expected to delay or suspend any action to recover possession while public health restrictions to deal with the current pandemic remain in place. 

Powers to extend

The Act allows the Minister for Communities to extend its effect beyond the current date of 30 September. The Act also allows the Minister to extend the notice period from 12 weeks to another specified period of anything up to six months, although the notice period cannot be extended beyond 12 weeks in the following cases

  • where a landlord needs to live in the dwelling
  • where the landlord is recovering possession due to serious anti-social behaviour which was engaged in by the tenant or a member of the tenant's household after 5 May 2020. 

Any regulations extending the notice period should also provide further information as to how these exemptions will be defined and evidenced. 

Speaking about the legislation in the Assembly, Minister Hargey commented;

“In these extraordinary times, where a number of people will temporarily struggle to pay their rent, through no fault of their own, they need certainty in the meantime that their homes are safe and that their landlords cannot move to evict them. The legislation will mean that no renter in private accommodation will be forced out of their home during this difficult time.”

Increase in queries from private sector tenants

As a housing advice charity, a disproportionate number of the people who contact Housing Rights for advice are tenants renting from private landlords. While 18% of people in NI live in the private rented sector, around one third of the contacts to our helpline come from these tenants. Since the onset of this crisis, that proportion has increased to almost half. We are pleased that the Department for Communities has been able to act swiftly to enhance the legal protection available to tenants in this scenario.

Getting advice on housing issues

Now that this important protection has taken effect, it is imperative that the Department for Communities and other stakeholders ensure that landlords and tenants are made aware. We would encourage anyone concerned about or affected by an eviction to seek advice by contacting our Helpline on 028 9024 5640

Tagged In

Coronavirus, Private Tenancies