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When everyone has a home

Housing advice for Northern Ireland

Legal rights of Housing Executive tenants

Housing Executive tenants have rights which are set out in law.  You are an introductory tenant for the first year of your tenancy.  After 12 months you’ll become a secure tenant.  Secure tenants have stronger rights than introductory tenants.

Secure or introductory tenant?

You need to work out whether you’re a secure tenant or an introductory tenant.  You will be an introductory tenant for the first 12 months of your tenancy. 

If you were a secure tenant of the Housing Executive or a housing association immediately before you moved into your new NIHE home, you’ll be able to keep that secure tenant status.  This will also apply if you’re moving in with someone who was a secure tenant immediately before they moved in with you.

Right to stay in your home

Whether you’re a secure tenant or an introductory tenant there are certain steps that have to be followed before the Housing Executive can evict you.

The Housing Executive will usually only try to evict you if there has been a problem you’re your tenancy; like you haven’t paid your rent or you’ve caused problems with neighbours. Introductory tenants can be evicted as long as

  • the Housing Executive follows the correct procedure and
  • evicting you is a reasonable step to take in light of how you have behaved during your tenancy.

Secure tenants can only be evicted if the Housing Executive gets a court order.  NIHE can apply for a court order if

  • you haven’t paid your rent
  • you haven’t kept the property in good condition
  • you, a member of your family or a visitor to your home has been involved in anti-social behaviour
  • you didn’t tell the truth on your housing application form.

If the Housing Executive writes to you to tell you that it is going to court to evict you, get in touch with Housing Rights.  Our advisers may be able to help you stay in your home.

Right to pass your home to a family member after you die

Secure tenants have a right to succession.  This means that, if a secure tenant dies, the tenancy can pass to a close relative who lived with the secure tenant for a period of 12 months up until he or she died.  If a joint tenant dies, the tenancy will automatically pass to the other joint tenant.  If a sole tenant dies and the tenant’s spouse lived with them at the time of the death the spouse will inherit the tenancy.

If you apply for a succession you will have to provide proof of your relationship to the deceased tenant and you may also have to prove that you lived in the property with the tenant for the last 12 months. 

A tenancy can only be passed on once.  If the tenant who died had inherited the property from a parent or family member the tenancy can’t be passed on again.

Introductory tenants don’t have a right to succession.

Right to give your tenancy to someone else if you can’t live there anymore

This is known as assignment.  The Housing Executive will sometimes allow you to pass your tenancy to someone else if you can’t live there anymore.  This can happen if
• a court order says you can’t live in the property anymore
• you want to pass your tenancy to someone who would be allowed to inherit the tenancy if you died
• you are exchanging properties with another tenant.

Sometimes, a tenancy can be assigned to someone else who has been living in the property if:

  • it is impossible for the tenant to continue to act as the tenant
  • the tenant has left and someone else has moved in to look after the tenant’s dependent children
  • the tenant has to go into residential care
  • the tenant has to move into sheltered or supported accommodation.

You’ll usually have to be able to satisfy certain conditions to get a tenancy assigned to you in these circumstances.  Contact Housing Rights Service for advice if you think this situation applies to you.

Right to take in a lodger

Secure tenants can have a lodger live in their home.  Introductory tenants are not allowed to have lodgers. You don’t need the Housing Executive’s permission as long as you continue to live in the property as well.

Any rent you charge will be part of your household income.  If you receive benefits you’ll need to let the Social Security Agency know about your lodger.  You’ll also have to tell the Housing Executive Housing Benefit Unit how much rent you get if you’re claiming housing benefit.  The amount of benefits you get will probably reduce because of your lodger.

You only have to pay tax on the rental income if you receive more than £7,500 in rent each year.

Right to sublet part of your home

You can sublet a part of your home, but you need the Housing Executive’s permission in writing.  As you’re the tenant, you have to live in the property as your main home and you can’t sublet the whole property. Introductory tenants aren’t allowed to sublet any part of their home.

If you have to leave the property for a period of time, say because you have to go into hospital or go into prison you might be able to claim housing benefit to cover the rent while you’re away.   If this isn’t possible, talk to one of our housing advisers who may be able to help you keep your tenancy while you’re not able to live in the property.

Right to an exchange or swap

Secure tenants can swap properties with another secure Housing Executive or housing association tenant as long as they have their landlord’s permission.

The Housing Executive or housing association won’t always agree to a swap.  There are certain circumstances where permission can be refused.

  • The property being swapped has more rooms than the household moving into it legally needs
  • A court has made an order saying that one or other tenants involved in the swap should be evicted from their property
  • Either landlord has started eviction proceedings against a tenant involved in the swap
  • The property being swapped doesn’t suit the household’s requirements – this could happen if there is one of the tenants needs a ground floor bathroom, or there is a security threat against them in a specific area. 
  • One of the properties has been specially adapted or is suitable for people with disabilities and the person moving in does not have these disabilities
  • One of the properties is designed for a particular group of users (e.g. older people, people with special needs) and the person moving is not part of this group

If you’re interested in an exchange, check out Homeswapper.  This is a website that lists all the properties in Northern Ireland and other parts of the UK that are available for swapping.

Right to improve your home

Secure tenants can carry out improvements to the property as long as they’ve got the Housing Executive’s permission first.  Introductory tenants aren’t allowed to carry out any improvements.

The Housing Executive will only refuse permission for the improvements if it is worried that the work will make the property less safe, reduce the value of the property or make it difficult to let in the future.  Before paying for an improvement yourself, check if the Housing Executive is responsible for this item. Bear in mind that you become responsible for repairs and maintenance of any new improvements you make to the house.  If you install a new shower and it leaks, it’s your responsibility to fix it.

Right to buy your home

If you’ve been a tenant for 5 years or longer you can apply to buy your home from the Housing Executive.  You could get a discount on the price you have to pay to buy the property.

Right to repair

The Housing Executive is responsible for carrying out repairs to properties of secure and introductory tenants.  Not every repair is the Housing Executive’s responsibility.  As a Housing Executive tenant, you are responsible for:

  • the internal decoration of the property
  • maintenance and upkeep of gardens and hedges
  • cleaning out your gratings
  • repairs to your electrical equipment (unless this was supplied by the Housing Executive)
  • problems with doorbells or plugs
  • fuses
  • the frets and baskets of open fires
  • all night burners
  • washers on taps
  • chains and stoppers for baths and sinks
  • airlocks in pipes
  • baths, basins, toilet bowls and seats and sinks (unless these have been cracked through fair wear and tear or poor installation)
  • internal door hinges, locks and handles
  • replacing broken glass and windows
  • cupboard and drawer doors, hinges and locks

The Housing Executive should take steps to fix any of these problems. Secure tenants have a right to ensure that urgent or emergency repairs which would cost under £250 are completed as a matter of urgency.  If they aren’t you could be entitled to compensation.

Right to consultation and information

The law on housing in Northern Ireland also says that all Housing Executive tenants have a right to certain information about their tenancy and about how housing is allocated in Northern Ireland.  This information is normally in

  • your tenant’s handbook
  • the Selection Scheme booklet and
  • your tenancy agreement.

All tenants also have a right to be consulted about certain proposed changes.  Introductory tenants will only have a say in matters of housing management, while secure tenants should be consulted about changes in housing management and changes to their tenancies.  You don't have a right to be consulted on issues around rent and service charges.