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When everyone has a home

Housing advice for Northern Ireland

Possession action & due process

This page is for landlords operating in Northern Ireland.  You can find advice for tenants elsewhere on our website. Private landlords in Northern Ireland can get advice by calling 028 9024 5640 and choosing option 5. 

You must get a court order to legally regain possession of your property. You cannot use force or coercion to get your tenants to leave. Only officers of the Enforcement of Judgements Office can legally remove a tenant from a property.

Due process

Your tenants have a legal right to due process.  This means that you must follow the correct legal procedure in order to remove the tenants from the property.  This applies even if the tenants have stopped paying rent, damaged the property or broken the terms of the tenancy agreement.

Due process requires that you satisfy all of the following steps:

  • serve the tenants with a legally binding Notice to Quit
  • if tenants do not leave when this Notice expires, you must obtain a court order for possession
  • if the tenants do not leave after receiving the court order, you must obtain an enforcement order to enforcement the original judgement
  • officers from the Enforcement of Judgements office can remove the tenants if they remain in the property on the date of enforcement.

If the tenants consent to leave at any of these stages, the tenancy is brought to an end.

Notice to Quit

Due process requires that you first serve your tenants with a Notice to Quit, informing them that you wish them to vacate the property by a specific date.  The amount of notice you are required to give depends on how long they have been living as tenants in the property.  The length of notice required is:

  • 4 weeks for tenants who have been living in the property for up to 5 years
  • 8 weeks for tenants who have been living in the property for between 5 and 10 years
  • 12 weeks for tenants who have been living in the property for more than 10 years. 

If your Notice to Quit does not give the tenant sufficient time, as required by law, it is unenforceable. If your tenants are still within the timeframe of a tenancy agreement they must be in breach of the agreement for you to regain possession.  You must include specifics of this breach in your Notice to Quit.  If you do not include details of the breach the court may find that the Notice is not valid and insist you begin the process for gaining possession again. 

You will not be able to file for a court order for possession of the property until a legally binding Notice to Quit has expired.

Does tenant have a valid tenancy agreement?

If your tenants have a tenancy agreement which has not yet expired, you can only begin possession proceedings and serve a notice to quit if they have seriously breached the agreement.  You should allow the tenants an opportunity to remedy the breach before proceeding to possession proceedings.  

Tenants who have a tenancy agreement are protected by the terms of this agreement until it expires.  Similarly, tenants who do not have an agreement are protected by a default six-month tenancy term and cannot be evicted during the initial six months of the tenancy unless you can show that they have breached a significant term of the agreement by, for example, failing to pay rent.  If your tenant's contract has expired and has not been replaced by a new fixed term contract, you do not need a reason to begin eviction proceedings and the tenant will have no defence to the proceedings if the matter is heard in court. 

Possession action

If the notice to quit period has passed and the tenant is still in the property you need to apply for a court order.  Unless you have experience of legal procedures, you should instruct a solicitor at this stage.

Your solicitor will serve a civil bill on your tenant.  This bill should include your grounds for seeking possession of the property; any claim for outstanding rent or damages and it should indicate whether you are seeking costs from the tenant if you are successful in court.  If the tenant is periodic and there is no fixed term agreement in place you do not need to have grounds to begin eviction proceedings.

The tenant has 21 days to respond and can file an intention to defend.  The case will be allocated a hearing date at the County Court which has jurisdiction in the area in which the property is located.  Whether the case is defended or not, you or your agent must attend the court hearing to put forward your case.

Where there is a fixed term agreement in place and you have cited a breach of agreement as grounds for possession you will need to satisfy the judge that the tenant did breach the agreement.  It will help your case if you can provide copies of any letters you sent to the tenant regarding this matter.

If the fixed term has expired and has not been replaced by a new fixed term tenancy, the hearing will be a formality.  The judge will have no option but to grant a possession order as long as you have served the notice correctly.

Enforcing an order

The Court Service should send a copy of the judgement to the tenant.  If the court has made an order, returning possession of the property to you, the tenant will usually be given a date by which they should vacate the property.

If your tenant does not vacate by that date, you will have to apply to the Enforcement of Judgements Office (EJO) to have the original order enforced.   You will have to pay a fee for this.  Your solicitor will be able to assist you in applying to  EJO for an enforcement order.

Harassment

Your tenants have a right to due process.  If you interfere with the property or with any amenities or services to the property in an attempt to force the tenants to leave the property you may be found guilty of harassment.  Harassment is defined as any action carried out by a landlord or someone acting on the landlord's behalf designed to interfere with the tenant's enjoyment of the property.

The local council will investigate any allegations of harassment.  You can be convicted of harassment even if your tenant has stopped paying rent or has damaged the property.

Illegal eviction

You must follow this legal procedure in order to regain possession of your property.  The following actions can be classed as an illegal eviction:

  • failing to give the appropriate amount of notice to quit
  • changing the locks while the tenant is out or otherwise preventing the tenant from accessing the property
  • removing the tenant's belongings from the property in an attempt to force the tenant to leave
  • forcing the tenant to leave by interfering with services or amenities or threatening and intimidating the tenant
  • anyone, other than a person who is employed by the Enforcement of Judgements Office, attempting to physically remove the tenant from the property.

The local council can prosecute you if it believes you have carried out an illegal eviction.