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When everyone has a home

Housing advice for Northern Ireland

Evicting secure social tenants

The Housing Executive and housing associations should only evict tenants as a last resort.  These landlords will usually only start legal action to evict if other ways of sorting out any problems have failed. Social landlords follow different procedures to evict an introductory tenant or if they think a property has been abandoned.

Steps before eviction

There are certain steps the Housing Executive must take before it can start the process to evict you. 

  • If you are in rent arrears, the Housing Executive or housing association should try to help you manage your budget and set up a repayment plan. 
  • If you’ve been involved in anti-social behaviour your landlord needs to investigate any complaints before taking legal action.
  • If you have children your landlord should ask for a social services report before starting eviction proceedings.

Your social landlord can’t start eviction proceedings if you’ve already left the property or if you are being evicted because you haven’t paid rent and

  • your only income comes from social security benefits or
  • you only owe the rent because of a housing benefit overpayment.

Legal process for eviction

The Housing Executive or housing association has to get a court order before evicting you.  There are certain steps that have to be followed before this can happen.

  1. Your social landlord serves you with a Notice Seeking Possession.  This notice must give you at least 28 days’ notice of the date you’re expected to leave the property.  If you receive on of these notices, get in touch with Housing Rights as quickly as possible.
  2. If you don’t leave when the Notice Seeking Possession expires your landlord can ask for a Decree for Possession in your local County Court. This has to be done within 12 months of serving the Notice Seeking Possession.  Your landlord may also start a case in Magistrate’s court if you owe rent.

The Housing Executive or housing association might not have to give you 28 days’ notice if you’re being evicted because of anti social behaviour, but it will still have to go to court and get a court order.

Eviction hearing at court

At court, the judge will look at your circumstances and listen to both you and your landlord before deciding whether or not to allow the eviction to go on.

You can have an adviser or a solicitor at court with you.  Housing Rights might be able to send an adviser to help you.  A housing officer from your landlord will be at the court, along with a solicitor who will act for your housing association or the Housing Executive.  There may also be other people in the courtroom waiting for their own cases to be heard.

The judge will explain what will happen during the hearing.  The housing officer or solicitor will usually speak first.  You will then be able to explain why you think you shouldn’t be evicted or why your eviction should be delayed.  Be clear about why you don’t think you should be evicted and make some notes before the hearing.  The judge may want to ask you or the housing officer more questions so you need to be well prepared.

The judge’s decision will be based on the evidence given and what the law says.  The judge can decide to

  • make a possession order, meaning your right to live in the tenancy will end
  • make a suspended possession order on certain conditions; this means that your tenancy will not end while you stick to these conditions
  • adjourn the case to a later date, maybe to allow you time to get advice
  • dismiss the case.

If you don’t understand the decision, ask the judge to explain what it means.

After the court hearing

If the judge made a possession order, you don’t have to leave immediately. Your landlord might allow you to stay on in the property, although you won’t be a tenant anymore.  If you stay on in the property, you’ll have to keep paying rent.

If the Housing Executive or housing association doesn’t want you to stay on in the property you’ll be given a date by which you should leave.  Contact Housing Rights if you have to leave your property and you have nowhere else to live. Your landlord will have to go back to court to get another court order to physically remove you or your belongings from the property.