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When everyone has a home

Housing advice for Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland legal system

The courts may be able to help sort out some housing problems. Most court cases that deal with housing are civil matters, but criminal courts can also hear housing related cases as long as a criminal law is alleged to have been broken. 

Criminal cases

There are two types of procedure and trials for criminal cases. Less serious offences are dealt with in the Magistrates' Court, by a judge without a jury. More serious cases are tried in the Crown Court. where the judge will usually hear your case with a jury. You can apply for help from the civil courts while starting a criminal case. You may be able to get:

  • compensation
  • an injunction to stop the other person from acting in this way

You may be able to get legal aid to pay for a solicitor depending on your circumstances and the type of case.

You'll need to get specialist legal advice from a solicitor if you're planning to take a case to criminal court. 

Civil cases

You can use civil proceedings if you want a court to help with a housing problem. You might go to court if you want to

  • sue for damages,
  • sue for breach of contract,
  • get an injunction.

Civil cases can be heard in Magistrates' Court, County Court or the High Court. 

Magistrates' court

You may have to go to the magistrates' court if:

  • you are looking for a non-molestation order after domestic violence,
  • you owe money, such as rent

You have to apply for legal action within 6 years of the event you're suing about. You can get application forms from your local court office. You can represent yourself in the magistrates' court, however, it is usually advisable to get legal representation. 

County court

You will normally have to go to county court if:

  • you are suing your landlord for damages of up to £15,000
  • you haven't paid your rates,
  • your landlord is trying to evict you from your home

You or your solicitor must issue a Civil Bill if you are going to county court. You don't strictly need a solicitor to use the County Court, but it's a good idea to get one. You may be able to get Legal Aid for your case. Your case will be heard by a judge.  There is no jury at county court. 

Small claims court

You can go to small claims court if you are:

  • looking for under £3,000 in rent or deposits,
  • you want under £3,000 in compensation for unsatisfactory workmanship;
  • your property was damaged and repairs cost under £3,000.

High court

The high court deals with more complex cases than the county court. The high court looks at any case, no matter how much money you are asking for. But you should not go to the high court if the magistrates' court or county court can deal with the case. Your case will normally be heard by a single judge without a jury. There are three divisions within the high court, to deal with different types of cases. 

The Queen's Bench deals with claims relating to 

  • breach of contract
  • damage to personal property
  • personal injury claims

The Chancery Division deals with claims relating to

  • mortgage arrears and repossession
  • wills and probate after someone has died

The Family Division deals with claims relating to the division of shared property after a marriage breakdown. 

Housing Rights can provide at court assistance to people who are going to court because of mortgage or secured loan arrears, rates arrears and rent arrears.