An MP has called on the Minister for Social Development to consider the introduction of a licensing scheme for private sector landlords who operate in Northern Ireland, during a parliamentary session this week.
Gregory Campbell, MP for the Democratic Unionist Party, tabled a motion to ask the minister to consider the scheme due to the changing nature of housing stock in Northern Ireland as a result of the economic downturn and banking difficulties.
Campbell said the resulting expansion of the private sector and the “accidental landlord” factor, whereby individuals come by properties they do intend to live in, meant landlords should not only be registered but a licensing scheme should be introduced.
He said: “I know that the minister has done some considerable work on the registration process. However as that develops through the year, we would like him to give consideration to a licensing scheme beyond that.”
Nelson McCausland, the Minister for Social Development in the Northern Irish government, said the landlord registration scheme was on track to be ready by the summer and a licensing scheme was a natural progression.
All landlords operating in Northern Ireland will be required to register as soon as a new tenancy is created and within 12 months if they have existing tenancies.
When the landlord registration regulations were proceeding through the Assembly it was specified that a register of landlords was the first step to making improvements in the sector.
McCausland said private rented sector licensing is how local authorities in England are seeking to improve the regulation of their private rented sectors.
English authorities are using powers in the Housing Act 2004 to ensure that rogue landlords are unable to operate while Scotland already has compulsory landlord registration and Wales is currently working on its own scheme.
A licence is issued only where landlords declare any criminal convictions, meet health and safety standards and have adequate systems in place for their tenants to report repairs and defects.
Landlords without a licence may be prosecuted and may no longer be able to operate their businesses.
He added: “If we decide that licensing is the next step for the private rented sector new legislation will be required.
“Members may be interested to learn that I am already considering the benefits of requiring landlords of houses in multiple occupation to have a licence before they may operate and that too would require new legislation and the support of the Assembly.”