Agenda item


            The Committee considered the following report:


“1.0     Purpose of Report or Summary of main Issues


1.1            To provide an update to members regarding the Department for Communities draft Private Tenancies Bill which was introduced by the Minister for Communities on 6 July 2021. The Department for Communities Committee has indicated that they are keen to receive a written submission from Belfast City Council before the end of November. (Appendix 1)

2.0       Recommendations


2.1       The Committee is asked to:


·        Note the draft proposals and comments and agree to submit the response, including a request for the resource implications for District Councils to be evaluated, to the Committee for Communities.

·        Note the response will be issued by the deadline of 30th November as a draft and will remain subject to Council approval.


3.0       Main report


            Key issues


3.1       The Bill has now reached its Committee Stage, and the Committee for Communities has responsibility for the Committee Stage of the Bill.


3.2       The Committee has issued its call for written evidence and views on the Bill, which is due to close on Friday 29th of October 2021.  The Bill consists of 11 substantive clauses and three schedules. The stated aim of the Bill is to make the private rented sector a safer and more secure housing option for a wider range of households. The Bill introduces a series of amendments to The Private Tenancies (Northern Ireland) Order 2006, which is the main legislative framework for the private rented sector in Northern Ireland.


3.3       Belfast City Council has a very long tradition of involvement in the private rented sector, primarily through its role as a regulator of housing standards but also in respect of its statutory duties under the Public Health Acts.  The enhanced powers recently devolved to district councils under the Private Tenancies (NI) Order 2006 (PTO) along with the transfer of  the regulation of Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) in 2018, confirms the importance of the evolving role that district councils have in regulating the private rented sector.  The Council therefore has been seen as a key consultee in this process.


3.4       Following on from this Committees call for evidence, the decisions taken by the Department  relating to areas that impact in the  development of a long term strategy for the private rented sector, will have a significant impact on the existing and evolving regulatory and advisory roles of the Council  and other stakeholder in relation to its statutory housing functions.


3.5       The Department’s landlord registration database has indicated that one third of the privately rented sector properties in Northern Ireland are located in the Belfast City Council area. Belfast City Council also has 70% of all HMOs in Northern Ireland and Belfast City Council coordinates the delivery of the HMO function for all 11 district Councils.


            In summary the Bill contains the following provisions:


·        Re-introduction of a written statement of tenancy terms for tenants

·        Tenants to be provide with rent receipt if payment in cash

·        Tenancy deposit to be limited to one month’s rent

·        Increase time limit for landlord to secure a deposit

·        Continuing offence for tenancy deposits

·        Rent increases to be restricted to once per year

·        Landlords must maintain fire, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors

·        The power to make energy efficiency regulations

·        The power to make regulations concerning electrical safety standards

·        Changes to the notice to quit period and process


3.6       Therefore, whilst the additional regulation of the privately rented sector is to be welcomed, the resourcing of these additional powers, potentially being granted to Councils, will require to be evaluated in advance by the Department before commencement. There is no indication from the Department than any additional funding will be made available to Councils and that the introduction of the ability to issues  fixed penalty notices is an appropriate  model to adequately resource the monitoring  and resourcing of these powers. There will be additional and new work for Councils if they are required to undertake this role. A properly evaluated analysis impact on Councils would need to be  undertaken and a suitable funding model identified and agreed before theses can be facilitated and commenced so that there is no impact on the rate payers due to additional burdens to DCs


3.7       Members will be aware that Belfast City Council has advocated on previous occasions for a review to the statutory fitness standard which would have encompassed some of these matters. Thus we, are waiting on the Department’s proposals to introduce a new standard which has been in in the planning stage for a considerable period of time. The current Fitness standard dates from 1981 and is considered outdated.  Therefore whilst he Council welcomes the introduction of some tenancy management standards, as  the regime for assessing the suitability of the property as a whole is outdated, our concern is that  Bill will only address the electrical installation, energy efficiency( at a later date, yet to be determined) and a working fire, smoke and carbon monoxide alarm.


3.8       The Bill is currently at the second stage of the Bill process which involves the Department for Social Development Committee requesting written submissions by interested parties on the content of the Bill.  The Council has been asked by the Committee to provide a written submission. Officers have prepared a draft submission, attached as Appendix 2 for consideration by the People and Communities Committee. Responses were due on 29th October however we have written to the assembly committee and sought an extension on Councils behalf. (see appendix 1)


3.9       Each of the clauses and our draft comments to the consultation are contained in Appendix 2. We would ask the committee to review and agree this as the BCC response.


3.10     The details of the Private Tenancy Bill are contained in Appendix 3 for members information.


            Financial and Resource Implications


3.11     The Private Tenancies Bill when enacted will give local councils additional enforcement powers to deal with issues in the Private Rented sector. These additional new powers will mean more enforcement officers will be required to deal with the additional workload. There will be fixed penalties introduced for some of the offences, but fixed penalty income will not cover the additional staffing and administrative resources required to manage this new function. Members will note the resource implications for District Councils to be evaluated will be requested in our submission to DFC.


            Equality or Good Relations Implications


3.12     None associated with this report.”


            The Committee noted the draft proposals and comments and agreed to submit the response, including a request for the resource implications for District Councils to be evaluated, to the Committee for Communities subject to the inclusion of the following additional points:


            Clause 4:


-        note that limiting deposits to one month’s rent might impact those tenants without guarantors or who owned pets. Highlight the need for specific measures to be introduced to protect such applicants;

-        note that the amount of rent charged at the beginning of a tenancy should also be capped at one month;


            Clause 7: The mechanism to challenge rent increases should also allow for the    following:


-        tenants should be given a longer notice period for rent increases, aligned with a notice to quit period;

-        specific reference to be made to rent controls to manage rent hikes as per previous Green motion and Council’s corporate support;


            Clause 11:


-        note that the notice to quit period required by landlords for tenancies under 12 months should also be extended and highlight the impact of such.


            It further agreed that the draft response be submitted by the 30th November deadline, noting that it was subject to Council ratification


Supporting documents: