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Belfast City Council

 

 

Report to:                  Health and Environmental Services Committee

 

Subject:                      Northern Ireland Landlord Registration Scheme

 

Date:                           3rd August, 2011

 

Reporting Officer:    Siobhan Toland, Head of Environmental Health, ext 3281

 

Contact Officer:        John Corkey, Environmental Health Manager (Public Health and Housing), ext 3289

 

 

 

Relevant Background Information

 

1.1

 

 

 

 

1.2

 

 

 

 

 

1.3

 

 

 

1.4

 

 

 

 

1.5

 

 

 

 

1.6

 

 

 

 

 

 

1.7

 

 

 

 

1.8

 

Belfast City Council has been at the forefront in the regulation of both rent control and housing standards in the private rented sector for over 100 years. The Council has also taken the lead in recent years in lobbying for an expanded role for district councils generally in this area of work.

 

The Government has now enhanced the role of district councils in the private rented sector through comprehensive powers to deal with serious disrepair and unfitness under the Private Tenancies (NI) Order 2006. It is also proposed that, under the review of public administration, the regulation of Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) should become a district council function.

 

The Housing (Amendment) Act (NI) 2011, which received Royal Assent on 3 May 2011, amends the Private Tenancies Order to permit the Department of Social Development (DSD) to make regulations providing for the registration of landlords of private tenancies.

 

The purpose of a landlord registration scheme in Northern Ireland is to create a register of all private landlords. It will give local councils the means to communicate and work with private landlords, allow them to ensure that landlords comply with the law, raise standards and, where necessary, take enforcement action.

 

The DSD considers landlord registration as a first step in a package of measures to bring about improvements in standards across the private rented sector in Northern Ireland. It is a sector which has seen a rapid increase in the number and proportion of privately rented dwellings, where almost one in six now choose to live. 

 

The DSD approached the Council’s Environmental Health Service earlier this year with a provisional proposal that the Council accepts the role of administrator of the new NI Landlord Registration Scheme. This approach from Government represents an acknowledgement of the key role played by this Council in the regulation of the private rented sector generally and is a recognition that the Council can be trusted to deliver on a regional scheme such as this.

 

Preliminary discussions have taken place with DSD staff regarding the logistics of the Council assuming the role of scheme administrator and the Head of Environmental Health is now seeking the Committee’s endorsement to further pursue the matter.

 

 

The DSD intends to include a fee within the regulations to ensure that the scheme is self-financing and Environmental Health staff are currently seeking to identify an appropriate charge to help inform the Department.

 

 

 

Key Issues

 

2.1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2.2

 

 

 

 

2.3

 

 

2.4

 

 

2.5

 

 

 

 

 

2.6

 

 

 

2.7

 

 

 

 

 

2.8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2.9

 

 

 

Currently there is no centrally maintained source of data:-

 

§         on the location and/or the number of landlords operating in the private rented sector;

§         on the level of compliance with current legal requirements or on the standard of practice within the sector;

§         on the scale and distribution of privately rented tenancies;

§         to provide a central point of information for the general public; or

§         to allow statutory bodies to measure the need for and impact of new policies for this sector.

 

The Northern Ireland Landlords’ Register will be a public register. It will contain personal details about individual landlords. In addition to names the register will also have addresses and dates of birth of landlords. Public access to these particular details will be restricted by regulations.

 

A scheme administrator will need to be appointed with responsibility for the implementation and maintenance of the register in accordance with the regulations.

 

The DSD has approached the Council’s Environmental Health Service with a proposal that they assume the administrator role.

 

The DSD has suggested that registration would be obligatory every 3 years. The landlords of all new tenancies would have to register as soon as a tenancy is commenced but, in order to avoid an immediate tranche of applications at the start of the registration process, there would be a lead in period of 18 months to allow for all others to eventually register. This would also avoid a deluge of renewal applications after 3 years.

 

The level of landlord registration fee in our opinion will need to ensure that the scheme is both self financing on an annualised basis but that it will also meet the set-up and non-recurrent costs for year 1.

 

Information on the current number of landlords in Northern Ireland is not yet sufficiently robust to accurately develop a recommended registration fee. The Environmental Health Service staff are therefore looking at a sliding scale of costs, based on a maximum and minimum number of landlords, in order to be able to recommend a fee to the DSD that would ensure a self-financing scheme.

 

The necessary draft regulations introducing the scheme still need to be taken through the Assembly’s Social Development committee and the DSD will also need to consult with all relevant stakeholders. They are also working on a draft business case for the Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP) so there are still a number of hurdles that need to be addressed before the DSD can initiate the scheme. They have confirmed however that there are no impediments, such as consultation, to the DSD appointing the Council as the administrator.

 

There is a requirement that the regulations have to be laid before then Assembly within 18 months of Royal Assent, although DSD intend working to a shorter timeframe than this.

 

 

 

 

3

Resource Implications

 

 

 

Set up costs, recurrent costs and administration costs will be incurred, however, we expect a fee will be set and agreed with DSD so that it can operate on a cost neutral basis.

 

 

 

Equality Implications

 

 

None

 

 

 

Recommendations

 

 

 

 

 

The Committee is requested to authorise the Head of Environmental Health to further explore the option of the DSD appointing the Council as the NI Landlord Registration scheme administrator.

 

Should authority be granted, the Head of Environmental Health will undertake to update the Committee on the progress of further discussions with DSD, as appropriate, and prior to any final Committee decision.