Communities Minister – private tenants will not be evicted during virus crisis

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Housing tenants will not be evicted during the Covid-19 crisis in Northern Ireland, Stormont’s communities minister said.

Courts are not hearing the cases during the emergency.

Minister Deirdre Hargey was urged to help set up a hardship fund for students.

“That is something we want to push further on and that is why we are bringing this legislation forward.

“We are in a public health emergency.

“They have a responsibility to protect people as well.”

Stormont’s Communities Committee agreed to the speedy passage of the Private Tenancies Bill after hearing from the minister via a remote connection.

Alliance Party Assembly member Kellie Armstrong said: “This is a very welcome piece of legislation.”

She said some tenants on fixed term contracts were being told they must pay outstanding debt or their credit rating will be affected.

She said: “Students are falling between the nets.

“We hear about the landlords and through their letting agents that are applying undue pressure.”

Mark H Durkan, Foyle Assembly member, said some landlords had paid off their mortgages and were reliant on rental income as their only form of support.

He said it was important to recognise that many landlords are showing goodwill and engaging positively with tenants to find a resolution.

Draft budget
Mark H Durkan said many students were in housing and financial stress due to coronavirus (Brian Lawless/PA)

“Many students have been forced to move out of student accommodation, have lost their job and income source, and have had to move home,” he said.

“It is not acceptable that students should have to continue paying rent for accommodation that is not being used, through no fault of their own.

“The Communities Minister should urgently consider implementing rent suspension through the duration of this crisis and penalty-free termination of housing contracts.

“A rent freeze would also be appropriate to ensure that when this pandemic ends, landlords cannot unfairly increase the rent for next year.”

NUS-USI (National Union of Students Northern Ireland) president Robert Murtagh said the meeting offered no comfort to student renters.

“Students are often in short-term tenancies where landlords have less vested interest in maintaining good relationships,” he said.

“Asking landlords to be lenient is quite simply not enough.

“We need the Government to step in and enforce a rent suspension for the duration of the crisis, penalty-free termination of contracts, a rent freeze and for these measures to be backdated to the start of March.”

Meanwhile, the minister has put the Housing Executive’s planned 2.7% rent increase for its tenants on hold.

It was due to come into effect on Monday but has been delayed until 1 October.

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