Landlord registration finally comes to Northern Ireland after a number of fits and starts, and a substantial period of uncertainty as to whether it might ever happen, landlord registration has finally got the go ahead in Northern Ireland. The Landlord Registration Scheme (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2014 have been passed by the NI Assembly and landlord registration will commence in Northern Ireland from 25 February 2014.
This has been a long time in coming. The power to bring in landlord registration was hinted at in the Private Tenancies Order in 2006 and formally added by amendment in 2011. It has been actively talked about by the DSDNI for at least the last 2 years, and probably longer in private. However, we are now on the home straight.
The new registration schemes will commence from 25 February 2014. After that date all landlords will have to be registered and it will be an offence to commence a new let of a residential property under a private tenancy without being registered. There is an allowance for landlords where a tenancy is already in place and continuing and these landlords will have up to 12 months to register, that is until 25 February 2015.
The requirement to register occurs prior to letting a property. Therefore it is not permissible to start the let and then register shortly afterwards. There is (of course) a fee for registration. This is £70 if it is done online. The registration lasts for three years at which point the landlord is required to update his details to the registrar and pay another registration fee. The registrar is obliged to contact the landlord four weeks before his registration expires. If the property is a registered HMO then no fee is payable. The regulations are rather poorly drafted in that they do not make very clear whether a fee is payable for each property and how adding more properties will work. It looks as though it is a single fee which for each landlord irrespective of the number of properties and this is confirmed by the NI Direct website.
To make an application it will be necessary to give the registrar the following information:
- Landlords name, date of birth, address, and contact details. If the landlord has an address outside NI then there must also be provided a contact address inside NI;
- The company registration number if the landlord is a company;
- Name, address, and contact details of any agent;
- The details of each house being let including the date of construction;
- If the property is a registered HMO then the registration number of the HMO must be provided.
The registrar must maintain a public register giving:
- The landlord's name;
- Registration numbers associated with that name;
- Name and details of agents acting for the landlord.
The full register information is not disclosed publicly but will be available to local authorities and other appropriate bodies.
Once registered a landlord will be provided with a registration number. Again the regulations are not entirely clear as to whether a landlord has one registration number or one for every property. This registration number must be put on all correspondence which relates to the landlord's operations. In practice that means it will need to go on pretty much everything.
Agents can register landlord's by agreement with them but the responsibility to register falls entirely on the landlord. The agent cannot be prosecuted for the landlord's failure.
This will lead to some changes for agents operating in Northern Ireland. Primarily, there will be a need to clarify in their terms of business that landlords must be registered. They will need to ensure that the landlord gets registered before the property is let, in practice that will mean getting the landlord to register as soon as his property is taken on so that there is no delay in starting the let. It will also be necessary to make modifications to standard letters and documents and to computer systems to record the landlord registration number and apply it to all letting connected documents.
More information on landlord registration is available on the NI Direct website.
This move leaves England increasingly isolated in its refusal to further regulate the PRS. All the devolved regions either have or are planning to have some form of landlord registration. England will introduce a consumer redress scheme for letting agents in 2014 but it is a long way from a landlord registration system. On a practical note such a system would be desirable to establish the size of the PRS and allow for accurate forecasting and planning. Without that information a great deal of the regulatory discussion around the PRS is merely guesswork.