The NI Executive announced modifications to the Private Tenancies Act due to COVID-19. Here we'll have a look on the effect this will have for Landlords & Tenants.
Recognising the severity of the situation we are currently in, the Assembly has passed emergency legislation to protect tenants in Northern Ireland during the COVID-19 outbreak. The Private Tenancies (Coronavirus Modifications) (Northern Ireland) Act 2020 protects tenants by temporarily extending the notice to quit period to twelve weeks. This period reflects the ‘shielding’ period as laid out in Government guidelines.
The effect of this new legislation is to temporarily extend the amount of notice private rented Landlords must give when ending a tenancy. Landlords will therefore now need to give tenants 12 weeks’ notice.
For tenancies of less than five years the notice to quit period has been increased by 8 weeks to 12 weeks. For tenancies of between five and ten years the notice to quit period has been increased by 4 weeks to 12 weeks. For tenancies of 10 or more years the notice to quit period remains the same.
The new law applies in cases where a Landlord serves notice on their Tenant on or after 5th May 2020. Where a Landlord has served notice on their Tenant before 5th May 2020, this is not captured under the new law. However, it is stressed that Tenants and Landlords should work together to maximise the opportunity for Tenants to remain.
What about arrears?
Landlords should consider what steps can be taken short of eviction where a Tenant is in arrears due to financial difficulties arising from COVID-19. Having an early conversation between Landlord and Tenant can help both parties agree a plan if Tenants are struggling to pay their rent, although deferral of rent may not always be possible.
This may include reaching a temporary agreement not to initiate possession action for a period of time and instead consider temporarily accepting a part-payment of rent, and agree a plan to pay off arrears at a later date. If you and your Tenant agree a plan to pay off arrears at a later date, it is important you both stick to this plan, and that Tenants talk to their Landlord immediately if they are unable to comply.
Sources of Financial Assistance
If a Tenant is worried about being unable to pay their rent, or if Landlords become aware of Tenants who may be in difficulty, advice is available from specialist providers such as Housing Rights, Advice NI, and The Money Advice Service.
It may take some time for some of the range of Government financial packages to be paid, and Tenants and Landlords should work together to understand one another’s needs and expectations during this period of uncertainty. This will allow both Tenants and Landlords to feel secure that they can remain at home and that rent will be forthcoming, albeit (in some cases) with delays.