Houses of Multiple Occupation

Oral Answers to Questions — Social development – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:30 pm on 8th April 2002.

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Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin 3:30 pm, 8th April 2002

5. asked the Minister for Social Development what plans he has to introduce legislation to regulate houses of multiple occupation for the benefit of tenants and neighbours of such dwellings.

(AQO 1094/01)

Photo of Nigel Dodds Nigel Dodds Opposition Whip (Commons)

The proposed housing Bill contains provisions to allow the Northern Ireland Housing Executive to introduce a mandatory registration scheme for houses of multiple occupation. First, such a scheme will increase the protection given to tenants in such establishments by ensuring that the accommodation provided is safe and of good quality. Secondly, it will include measures to ensure that the owners and operators of houses of multiple occupation conduct themselves in a way that does not interfere with the rights of neighbouring residents to enjoy peaceful occupation of their homes.

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

Can the Minister clarify the nature of the legislation? For example, if someone has a tenancy agreement with the Housing Executive, a neighbour or local resident can approach the Housing Executive with allegations about a breach of that agreement. Does the legislation allow a neighbour of a person living in a house of registered multiple occupation to deal with a complaint in a similar way?

Photo of Nigel Dodds Nigel Dodds Opposition Whip (Commons)

The scheme for houses of multiple occupation is designed to regulate those houses for the benefit of tenants and neighbours. If the Housing Executive moves towards a mandatory scheme, it will include measures to ensure that owners and operators of houses of multiple occupation conduct themselves in a way that does not interfere with the rights of neighbouring residents. I am aware of the need to introduce measures that will allow residents and neighbours to deal effectively with antisocial behaviour. The scheme that is being introduced to address antisocial behaviour, which is contained in the legislation, will deal effectively with the problem and is welcomed widely.

There are many defects and problems in the current system. The general body of the legislation will include remedies and measures that currently cannot be used to deal with antisocial behaviour, which is why I am keen to see that legislation on the statute book as soon as possible. The provision of a mandatory licensing scheme will also go some way towards improving the situation for those who live in houses of multiple occupation.

Photo of John Dallat John Dallat Social Democratic and Labour Party

The Minister will be aware that, after double glazing was installed, many houses of multiple occupation became fire traps. Indeed, he will be aware that several people, including students, have lost their lives. Is he satisfied that the legislation is adequate to prevent further tragedies?

Photo of Nigel Dodds Nigel Dodds Opposition Whip (Commons)

Currently there is a voluntary licensing scheme, which will allow the Housing Executive to introduce a mandatory scheme.

It will go a long way to improve the situation that the Member mentioned. Up to 30,000 people live in houses of multiple occupation throughout Northern Ireland. We must accept that that includes both high-quality and very poor, often overcrowded, accommodation.

Student accommodation is not covered by current legislation. It will be covered under the proposed legislation, which will make a big improvement. Many landlords provide acceptable accommodation, but standards fall short in some areas. Once the legislation is through, those standards will be better addressed.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson DUP 3:45 pm, 8th April 2002

Regarding the Member for West Belfast’s supplementary question, will the Minister join me in welcoming the apparent change in stance by IRA/Sinn Féin in dealing with antisocial elements in housing? It seems that they would now prefer to have those matters dealt with through legislation than by thugs wielding baseball bats.

Photo of Mr Donovan McClelland Mr Donovan McClelland Social Democratic and Labour Party

That may be out of order, but I will allow the Minister to use his discretion.

Photo of Nigel Dodds Nigel Dodds Opposition Whip (Commons)

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. Any move that encourages those who have been prepared to use methods outside the law to use the law instead is to be welcomed. However, I fear that the transformation does not even near completion, because we hear daily reports of people who have been terrorised, threatened, had limbs broken or been forced out of their homes for antisocial behaviour by the movement of which the Member for West Belfast is part.

Photo of Mr Donovan McClelland Mr Donovan McClelland Social Democratic and Labour Party

There being no further questions to the Minister, we will resume the debate on the Report of the Committee of the Centre.