No-fault Evictions: Ban

Opposition Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:45 pm on 16 April 2024.

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Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Social Democratic and Labour Party 3:45, 16 April 2024

I beg to move

That this Assembly declares a housing crisis; expresses its concern that social housing waiting lists have almost doubled in the past 20 years, with a clear long-term trend towards longer waiting times; acknowledges the findings of the 2023 report by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on private rental affordability that median rent in Northern Ireland’s private rented sector accounts for 25% of household income; regrets that the loss of private rented accommodation continues to drive homelessness; and calls on the Minister for Communities to provide an immediate update on the housing supply strategy and bring forward legislation to ban no-fault evictions in Northern Ireland.

Photo of John Blair John Blair Alliance

The Business Committee has agreed to allow up to one hour for the debate. The proposer of the motion will have five minutes in which to propose and five minutes in which to make a winding-up speech. As an amendment has been selected and published on the Marshalled List, eight minutes will be added to the total time for the debate. Please open the debate on the motion.

Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Social Democratic and Labour Party

I am proposing a ban on the pervasive practice of no-fault evictions, which has contributed to increased homelessness and hardship and has uprooted the lives of thousands of families here. At present, the over-reliance on the private rented sector threatens security of tenure and access to safe and affordable housing. The majority of private tenancies here are non-protected, and landlords can terminate a tenancy without citing any fault or wrongdoing on the part of the tenant. That creates an unfair balance of power and serves as a stark reminder of the inequalities that persist within our housing system.

It is a stain on the record of the Assembly that the numbers on our social housing waiting lists have risen to a mammoth 45,000 households as of March last year. That did not happen overnight. Instead, it is a result of a sustained failure by the Executive to fund homelessness prevention initiatives, set and meet ambitious social housing build targets, and prioritise such strategies as the empty homes strategy, which has not made a dent in reducing some 20,000 empty homes across the region. The freeze on local housing allowance rates for low-income private renters, amid escalating rental costs, and the decision to end discretionary housing payments for some of society's most vulnerable have further compounded pressures on the housing waiting lists.

The private rented sector here is the fastest-growing across these islands, with twice as many families living in private rented housing than in the social sector. The unaffordability and insecurity of tenure within that sector is responsible for an estimated third of all homelessness cases presented to the Housing Executive. The Tory privatisation of social housing stock, which is their endgame, coupled with the blasé attitude of successive Executives to addressing the housing crisis, has all but decimated existing stock. It has stripped almost an entire generation of the opportunity to have somewhere to call home, denied them the stability and security that comes with that, and forced them to navigate an increasingly precarious rental market.

In 2022-23, there was a 17% increase in the number of households presenting as homeless due to the loss of private rented accommodation. That is an extremely worrying trend. I have spoken with countless private renters who have been evicted after 10 years — sometimes, 15 — for daring to make reasonable requests for repairs or ask for persistent problems in their homes, such as damp, to be tackled. That has, in part, contributed to a staggering 4,500 children living in temporary accommodation. The increased use of non-standard accommodation, such as hotels and B&Bs, for families should be a concern for all of us. Accommodation that was once deemed as a last resort has become the norm, and the rapid escalation in emergency accommodation expenditure has seen costs spiral from £700,000 in 2017-18 to an eye-watering £7·5 million last year. That is a particularly bitter pill to swallow when we consider that DFC has not seen fit to fund homelessness prevention initiatives, which are currently operating at a £7·4 million deficit.

To better understand the true cost of no-fault evictions, I will share the story of one of my constituents, which also exemplifies the cyclical nature of the policy. That working single-parent family was allocated hotel accommodation that was quite far outside its locality. For weeks, my constituent had to pay for taxis to get the children to and from school and was forced to order takeaways owing to the absence of cooking facilities. Those hidden costs of homelessness are rarely considered. That family, already struggling to make ends meet, fell even further into debt, and that is before we consider the emotional distress, the sleepless nights and the detrimental impact on the children's school lives.

Promises that DFC and its Minister made during the previous mandate on welfare mitigations and, now, private tenancy safeguards have seemingly evaporated. The Private Tenancies Act (Northern Ireland) 2022 fell short of what is required, but we were assured that we would see subsequent legislation that would strengthen security of tenure and deal with grounds for eviction. The 2022 Act makes provision for longer notice to quit periods, which worked effectively during the pandemic. It is important that we see that provision brought into operation — we hope that we will see it — but, as it is not yet in force, the DUP amendment is kind of rendered obsolete.

Promises were also made about taking a whole-system approach under the housing supply strategy to build 100,000 homes in 15 years. That was planned to be completed in spring 2022.

Photo of John Blair John Blair Alliance

Will the Member bring his remarks to a close?

Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Social Democratic and Labour Party

It remained, and remains, in draft form, however, because of the lack of a functioning Assembly. Any update on that strategy remains outstanding. I ask Members to support the motion.

Photo of Maurice Bradley Maurice Bradley DUP

I beg to move the following amendment:

Leave out all after "strategy" and insert: "and, as a matter of priority, meet the duty to bring forward regulations to put in place much longer notice to quit periods, as provided for in section 11 of the Private Tenancies Act (Northern Ireland) 2022."

Photo of John Blair John Blair Alliance

The Member will have five minutes in which to propose the amendment and three minutes in which to make a winding-up speech. All other Members who are called to speak in the debate will have three minutes.

Photo of Maurice Bradley Maurice Bradley DUP

The private rented sector accounts for 13% of households in Northern Ireland, and many of them are vulnerable households. Indeed, we have previously heard evidence that almost half are in receipt of housing benefit or the housing element of universal credit. In recent years, the private rented sector has grown considerably, particularly in the 25- to 34-year-old age group. That would suggest that it has been a valuable option for those who are priced out of the market as a result of shortages in the housing sector. Stable high house prices, the spike in interest rates and the affordability of mortgages have all had an impact. The DUP fully recognises that those households deserve a safe and secure tenancy. We are committed to driving up standards in the private rented sector. We supported the legislation that was passed by the Assembly in the previous mandate, and it has gone some way to improving regulation.

The Private Tenancies Act (Northern Ireland) 2022 afforded the potential to go even further on providing greater assurances for renters, particularly through longer notice to quit periods. It would be an abdication of responsibility not to pursue the implementation of those enhancements in favour of an outright ban, which may take longer and require additional legislation in the House when time is not on our side to do so. That is not to say that my party does not support exploring the merits of banning no-fault evictions in a second phase of reforms. It is crucial, however, that, in the first instance, we focus on what is deliverable and on what will yield the greatest added value for vulnerable renter households in the shortest time frame possible. The Minister for Communities is actively working on the necessary legislation. I urge the other parties to support that direction of travel.

The balance to be struck between protecting tenants and the risk of over-regulation is a fine one. Recent research by the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) has found that as many as 60% of private landlords could seek to exit the market, particularly when Airbnb and holiday lets may acquire higher rents. In the policy that we make, there is therefore a need to ensure that we do not exacerbate problems in housing supply either by driving current landlords out of the sector or by reducing its attractiveness to new buyers. The sustainability and longevity of the private rented sector is absolutely critical when we consider that, of 6,051 housing starts in Northern Ireland in 2022-23, over 80% were in the private sector. In general, there was a 19% decrease in new starts. In that sense, it is clear that a failure to get to grips with the challenges that face housing supply will be magnified by the level of accommodation that is available from the private sector, not least because the shortage of social stock places pressures in that direction, but the DUP is committed to unlocking supply across all tenures. The Minister is reviewing a draft housing supply strategy with exactly that in mind.

In closing, we need to future-proof the private rented sector, which means tackling the practices of a minority of rogue landlords who are operating in the sector without disadvantaging those who operate with fairness and integrity in their dealings with renters.

Photo of Ciara Ferguson Ciara Ferguson Sinn Féin

Across all our communities, people, families, homeowners and renters alike should be able to access decent, affordable and suitable homes, which meet their needs and are situated in the community in which they wish to live, whether urban or rural.

Prior to the collapse of the Executive, Sinn Féin had worked to protect people from evictions during COVID and was working on extending the length of time in which people can be given a notice to leave their private rented accommodation, in order to protect renters from evictions, and particularly those who might find themselves at the mercy of unscrupulous landlords. Therefore, we fully support additional work to ban no-fault evictions, recognising that no person should be facing the threat of eviction through no fault of their own. That has often been employed as a mechanism to increase rents or to silence people from highlighting sub-standard accommodation.

We would go further and suggest looking to tenancies of indefinite duration, which would effectively mean that, after six months of living in a tenancy, the tenant would have a right to remain for an unlimited duration provided they uphold their rental obligations, unless served with a limited and valid notice on permitted termination grounds.

We support the motion. We all now need to see action from the Minister for Communities to deliver the housing supply strategy and to work closely with the housing sector, our front-line homelessness network and people with lived experience of housing stress and homelessness. Critically, all our Ministers and all parties must be united in determination to get the right long-term funding package agreed here if we are to tackle the financial challenges that are facing the Housing Executive and make the delivery of decent, affordable, accessible and sustainable housing a reality for all.

Photo of Kellie Armstrong Kellie Armstrong Alliance

I have three minutes, so I will try to fly through this as quickly as possible. As the Alliance Party's housing spokesperson, I can say that we will support the Opposition motion but not the amendment. The reason why we are not supporting the amendment is that the Department for Communities has published on its website some of the protections around notices to quit that are contained in the Private Tenancies Act (Northern Ireland) 2022 and have already been brought through. We already have the provision that, for instance, from 5 May 2022, if a tenant had less than 12 months left on a tenancy, they were entitled to four weeks' notice. If a tenant has less than 12 months left but not more than 10 years tenancy, it is eight weeks' notice, and for tenants with a tenancy of over 10 years, it is 12 weeks' notice. The tenant must also give notice. The next stage of the Private Tenancies Act will be taken forward by the Minister without needing an amendment to a motion today.

We support the ban on no-fault evictions in Northern Ireland, but to back that up, I have some of the communications that I have received from Renters' Voice, which was extremely helpful on the Private Tenancies Act. It has said that, as a group of private tenants, it has concerns that without security, private renters are not raising issues regarding repairs and maintenance for fear of being evicted. So, having a ban on no-fault evictions in Northern Ireland is something that we should and must consider.

If we are going to ban no-fault evictions, however, there will need to be careful consideration of the reasons why landlords are permitted to end a tenancy. That matter was raised by the previous contributor, Ciara Ferguson. Permitted termination grounds need to be very carefully thought about. For instance, I am not very impressed by the fact that, in Scotland, they include on their list misuse or annoyance as some of the reasons that a landlord can get rid of a tenant. They can also evict someone if they want to lease their property for off-season holiday lets or if they want to use it for a lay missionary property. Some of those reasons are just not acceptable to me, and it would be appropriate to have proper scrutiny of that and bring that forward.

A number of people in Northern Ireland live in private rented accommodation. We would have a worse housing crisis if they were not able to live in private tenancies. The evidence from Scotland, however, shows that bringing in a ban on no-fault evictions has not led to a mass exodus of private landlords from the sector. In fact, they had not seen much difference in it, but I have to say that some of their figures were from the COVID period, when there was a ban on moving out of houses. We need to work with our private landlords and with private tenants and we need to consider better how we can protect people in the private rented sector, given the fact that Renters' Voice is saying that those tenants need that type of support.

Photo of Mike Nesbitt Mike Nesbitt UUP 4:00, 16 April 2024

I support the motion but, unfortunately, not the amendment because I feel that it does not actually address the fundamental point, which is to ban no-fault evictions. That is not to say that extending notice to quit periods should not be looked at and, indeed, increased.

This is a question of balance between what is best for the tenant and what is best for the landlord. To put it another way, it is about rights: the rights of the landlord and the rights of the tenant. When you have two sets of rights, they often compete and give rise to a tension. That is the case here. That leads me to wonder about the motivations of the two groups. Perhaps it is easier to assess the motivation of the tenant. It may be that a tenant simply does not want to commit to owning property. That is a perfectly valid position to take. On the other hand, it may be that the tenant becomes a tenant because they cannot afford to own their own property, and that introduces, of course, the concept of vulnerability. Let us look at the motivation of the landlord. It may be that they are decent, reasonable people who just want to make a lawful living by renting their property, but, on the other hand, it may be because they want to pursue profit at all costs, inflicting an unreasonable, hurtful, damaging regime upon the tenant.

On the former motivation of the landlord, let us recognise the important role that private landlords play in addressing housing need. Housing Executive statistics suggest that private landlords account for almost 50% of housing rentals. I am referring to statistics for the financial year 2022-23, which also indicate that 48·15% of rentals were with private landlords and the rest with the Housing Executive and housing associations. If we assume that the majority are professional in their management of tenants, we still have to accept that there will always be exceptions to that rule — landlords who are attempting to take advantage of vulnerable tenants. That is why we support the motion.

I am sure that every Member is aware of circumstances where tenants have chosen not to report repairs that are required or issues that they are having with the property to the landlord due to fear that, rather than having those issues rectified, they will end up being evicted. Removing the ability of a landlord to end a tenancy for no reason provides much more security to households, many of whom, as I said, are among the vulnerable in our society. This is a reasonable, proportionate and balanced proposal, which this party is happy to support.

Photo of Eóin Tennyson Eóin Tennyson Alliance

I thank the Opposition for tabling the motion, which we support, and for the opportunity to have this important debate.

Everyone has a right to feel secure in their home, to feel settled in their local community and to enjoy stability so that they can look forward to the future and plan with confidence. Instead, thousands of responsible tenants can still be uprooted by their landlord, at any time and without justification, simply because they are outside of a fixed-term tenancy or licence agreement. The precarious nature of renting and the looming risk of losing a home through no fault of their own is a sad and anxiety-inducing reality for far too many of our constituents. Loss of private rented accommodation was the cause of almost 3,000 families presenting as homeless last year. That, along with soaring rents, a social housing waiting list that has almost doubled in the past two decades and the fact that over 4,500 children are in temporary accommodation, is evidence that a complete and radical overhaul is now required.

As has already been referenced in the debate, we, as elected representatives, all have experience of constituents who are fearful of reporting required repairs or who are living in private rented accommodation that simply is not fit for purpose. So too are we all aware of the barriers facing young people who are struggling to get out of their parents' back bedroom and into their first home due to affordability issues. In that context, the limited protection offered by the Private Tenancies Act, whilst welcome, does not, in itself, go far enough, nor can it be the ceiling of our ambition. That is why we cannot support the DUP amendment.

Business as usual is simply not good enough in the face of a crisis. We must see a step change in approach and a new deal for renters. Primary legislation to deliver an end to unfair no-fault evictions once and for all is an important step in that process. That should, of course, be supported by an increase in supply through the implementation of an ambitious but credible housing supply strategy that is predicated on a robust and independent assessment of need, alongside action to explore and deliver a system of rent controls and a renewed focus on improving housing quality. Achieving that vision will require action not just from the Communities Minister but from right across our Executive, not least the Department for Infrastructure, whose inaction on waste water infrastructure is holding up as many as 19,000 homes. The challenges are undoubtedly huge, but I hope that parties can unite today on the issue and take the first progressive step towards the change that is needed.

Photo of Gerry Carroll Gerry Carroll People Before Profit Alliance

There are too many landlords in the Assembly. It is no wonder that so many people can be evicted on a whim. The housing crisis is multifaceted, but, ultimately, it boils down to the refusal of the Executive parties to do anything about it. The reason why they refuse to do anything about it is that they have absolutely no material interest in doing so. It suits them and their agenda to allow people to be at the mercy of greedy landlords.

When I say that people are at the mercy of landlords, you have only to look at the reasons that they can use to evict people. Tenants can be legally evicted if they ask for repairs; if a landlord decides to increase the rent and the tenant cannot afford to pay it; if a landlord decides to convert the home into student, HMO or Airbnb accommodation; if a landlord decides to sell the tenant's home; or if a landlord just does not like their tenant. I thank the activists in the Community Action Tenants Union (CATU) for briefing us on those points ahead of the debate. I commend them for their work in resisting the evictions, legal and illegal, of all people in our communities, including asylum seekers and refugees, and I have stood with them previously on those issues.

Housing is a human right, in theory if not in practice. The fact that a commodity has been made of it is a damning indictment of the capitalist system. In 2022-23, the loss of private rented accommodation — evictions, in other words — was the second most common reason for people presenting as homeless to the Housing Executive. That should never be the case. It should never be the case that so many have to rely on private rented accommodation. That is why it is important to recognise that the Stormont Executive's failure to build social homes has been the primary driver of homelessness. It has forced too many people into substandard rental accommodation, where landlords are allowed to squeeze every last penny out of working people. You will have seen, Mr Deputy Speaker, some of the houses in which my constituents and those of others in the House live. Many of them are riddled with mould, damp, mice and worse. Across the board, rents are up by around 10%. The average rent in the North is now £850, which is a staggering figure. It is no wonder that people live in poverty, when the bulk of their earnings go on lining landlords' pockets.

I hope that those at the sharp end of this crisis will remember how parties here voted against my proposal to cut and freeze rents. We were told that it could not be done. Lo and behold, Scotland did it a few weeks later. People voted against it because they were afraid to challenge landlords, and because many of them are landlords. I will not shame anyone here personally, but, in front of me, I have a list of some 15 MLAs who are landlords, from all parties across the Chamber. The information is on the Register of Members' Interests, and I urge the public to look at it. One in six MLAs is a landlord, which is a shocking figure that should give everyone an indication of whose interests the Assembly and Executive represent.

Photo of John Blair John Blair Alliance

The Member's time is up.

Photo of Gerry Carroll Gerry Carroll People Before Profit Alliance

I do not think that any landlord should be allowed to vote on anything that might penalise their tenants —

Photo of John Blair John Blair Alliance

Thank you. Time is up.

Photo of Gerry Carroll Gerry Carroll People Before Profit Alliance

— or boost their own earnings.

Photo of John Blair John Blair Alliance

All those who indicated that they wished to speak have done so. I call the Minister for Communities to respond. The Minister will have up to 10 minutes.

Photo of Gordon Lyons Gordon Lyons DUP

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I start by declaring no interest. I am not a landlord. I would like to make that very clear. I thank those who contributed, and I welcome the opportunity to speak to the motion. There is much in it that I support and much that I am taking forward already to deal with some of the issues. I recognise the concerns that the proposer and others raised. I am very concerned about the high demand for social housing, increasing waiting lists and pressure on the homelessness system. Alongside that, there is increasing pressure on our private rented sector, where supply is reducing and costs are increasing. As Minister for housing, I am already on record saying that housing is a priority for me and that the challenges that I have set out cannot be addressed by my Department alone. I am looking forward to working with Executive colleagues to make sure that it is a priority across the Executive.

Last week, we heard from many Members about how infrastructure constraints and water connections in particular continue to frustrate our attempts to deliver more homes. The issue needs to be sorted out. It is stopping thousands of houses being built and adding tens of thousands of pounds to the price of houses. We have an opportunity to act now, and we must. I am absolutely determined about that. We need to work together to make sure that we do not slide into the sort of crisis that exists in other places in the UK and in Ireland.

The motion states the findings of the 2023 report by the Office for National Statistics on private rental affordability. It is worth noting that the ONS considers housing to be affordable if a household spends 30% or less of its income on rental costs. While Northern Ireland is one of the most affordable regions, we must be upfront about the fact that rents have increased significantly over the past three years and have done so more sharply here than elsewhere. My Department's research in 2021 found that there may be 38,000 households paying more than 30% of their income in rent, of which more than 22,000 are paying over 40%. By any measure, that is unaffordable. Those households are the ones that have been really struggling and the most impacted by the freeze at 2020 levels of local housing allowance. The best ways of relieving pressure on affordability for renters are to increase housing supply and ensure that the benefits system properly considers the cost of housing. I am relieved that the local housing allowance rates have been unfrozen and increased from this month. Some of those rates have increased by over 40%. That will go some way to helping many renters pay their rent and relieve the pressure on their household budgets.

Landlords here do not have to specify a reason for eviction. Security of tenure is a major concern for tenants. I am already taking forward work under phase 1 of my Department's reform of the private rented sector to introduce much longer notice to quit periods. The Assembly mandated that action in the Private Tenancies Act (Northern Ireland) 2022. The Act places a duty on me to put those measures in place. I am fully committed to fulfilling my duty to the Assembly. I recognise that those changes will improve security of tenure for individuals and families in the private rented sector.

My officials are drafting regulations on exceptions to those notice periods in legislation in order to ensure that our action is compliant with the Human Rights Act 1998. The Private Tenancies Act included a deadline of 27 April 2024 for that work, but engagement with stakeholders has shown that that is not realistic. I apologise to the Assembly for that delay and for missing the deadline that the Assembly set for my Department. However, it is, obviously, important that we fully consider equality implications, such as where tenant behaviour that others might see as disruptive is linked to domestic violence. My officials are developing a robust equality impact assessment in order to inform the drafting of those regulations, with consultation planned for the coming months.

My future consideration for phase 2 of the reform programme will be focused on what further measures I can take to improve the safety, security and quality of the sector. My officials have already started to engage with key stakeholders, and they will review what is happening in other jurisdictions in order to inform that work. That is really the only area of controversy in the motion and where there is a bit of division in the House today. I am happy to support the amendment that my colleagues submitted. Many Members who are calling for change voted only two years ago for the legislation, which would make notices to quit much longer than before, including up to seven months for the longest tenancies. The Assembly also placed a duty in primary legislation on the Department to do the work to bring those into place. I have a legal duty to consider the exemptions to the longer notices for things such as antisocial behaviour and to put suitable regulations in place, which would then trigger the longer notices.

That work is not complete. I have set out that it is complex and has taken longer than expected. It would be odd for me to divert my officials from that work, which I am under a statutory duty to do, in order to proceed down the different route that the Assembly wants me to take today. I am not saying that I am opposed to that; in fact, I have said that, under phase 2, we are looking at the further measures that can be taken, but I have a duty in law to progress these matters further.

Ending no-fault evictions is complex. It would involve an entirely new approach and require a fundamental review of how our private tenancy system works. Scotland and some of the difficulties that have existed there were mentioned. In Scotland, there are 18 different reasons why a tenant can be asked to leave a private rental. It is hard to read that long and comprehensive list and imagine that it brings much added security. Each ground has detailed guidance setting out evidence thresholds and so on. There is a tribunal to oversee the process as well. Of course, the length of notice is different, depending on the grounds. It is only 28 days for six of the grounds and never more than three months. It does not matter how long the house has been the tenant's home. What I am trying to address is better for the safety and security of tenants than what happens there. Needless to say, with all that complexity and scope for confusion, Scotland is continually having to review and amend its law due to its unintended consequences. For example, the new approach is considered to have greatly reduced the willingness of landlords to let to students in Scotland.

I support the amendment. It retains the approach to security of tenure that the previous Assembly chose only two years ago. Even at this last moment, I urge Members to support that, but I get the sense of the House, and I acknowledge that that will not be the case. I highlight the fact that I am under a duty to continue the work that I was mandated in law to do by the Assembly. That will not prevent me from looking at phase 2 of the future work that we might be able to do in this area. I hope that Members will understand that, regardless of what way the votes go today.

I make it clear to the Assembly that I recognise the concerns around housing pressures, especially as they affect private renters, who are most exposed to those pressures, but I am committed to addressing the issues before it becomes as deep a crisis as we see elsewhere in the UK or Ireland. I acknowledge the concern around growing pressures in the private rented sector. I have set out some of the work being taken forward by the Department to help people. However, addressing housing issues will require commitment from across the Executive. In response to what Sinéad McLaughlin said earlier, when I say that — I have said it a number of times over the last couple of days — it is not to kick the can down the road or pass it on to someone else; rather, it is because, if we want to see real progress in these areas, we will need cross-departmental working and Executive support. Therefore, I will seek the Executive's endorsement of the housing supply strategy.

I will continue to prioritise building more social homes. Most of the capital budget of the Department goes on social homes, and that will continue, because we need to ensure that supply meets demand. Of course, we also need to address other issues, like water in particular, that prevent us from doing more. I will press for a positive way forward for the future of the Housing Executive as well, because it is incredibly important. I look forward to seeing thousands more affordable homes being built and lived in over the next three years.

Photo of John Blair John Blair Alliance 4:15, 16 April 2024

Will the Minister bring his remarks to a close?

Photo of Gordon Lyons Gordon Lyons DUP

I encourage Members to vote for the amendment, but my powers of persuasion may have reached an end.

Photo of John Blair John Blair Alliance

Thank you, Minister, for that response, which was the latest of a number of responses that you have made today.

I call on Brian Kingston to make a winding-up speech on the amendment. The Member has up to three minutes.

Photo of Brian Kingston Brian Kingston DUP

Our amendment proposes that, in the first place, the Minister bring forward regulations to put in place much longer notice to quit periods. That, we believe, would make a real and tangible difference to tenants as a first phase in enhancing their rights and protections. As my colleague Maurice Bradley said, there is a need for balance on the matter. Departmental statistics show that 13% of homes in Northern Ireland are in the private rented sector. In comparison, just 4% of homes are rented from housing associations and 10% are Housing Executive rentals. The number of private rentals is therefore virtually equivalent to what we call "social housing".

As we have heard in the debate, some just have an ideological objection to private rentals. That is of no help, though, to those who seek properties. It is a substantial sector and an option that many people choose to avail themselves of. There is a risk, through over-regulation, of causing a reduction in private rental properties. As anyone who talks to local estate agents will know, there is already a massive shortage of private rental properties. I am told that, once a property goes on the website, the agent gets hundreds of requests on the first day. The circumstances of recent years have caused a reduction in that supply through higher interest rates and higher house prices. Research from the Chartered Institute of Housing found that as many as 60% of private landlords could seek to exit the market, particularly where Airbnb and holiday lets may accrue higher rents.

Members rightly raised the issue of the quality of private rented sector properties: that needs to be enforced. We need suitable regulation through the environmental health departments in our councils, and they must have those powers.

In every action and in every decision that we take in the Assembly, we must be mindful of the risk and likelihood of unintended consequences. We believe that our amendment to increase the notice periods for tenants will, in the first place, increase protections for them without risking the reduction of supply as an unintended consequence.

Photo of John Blair John Blair Alliance

I call on Cara Hunter to conclude and wind up the debate on the motion. The Member has up to five minutes.

Photo of Cara Hunter Cara Hunter Social Democratic and Labour Party

I sincerely thank the Minister, who has been here all day, since early this morning. We are really grateful that he is here and has been listening throughout. I also thank all the anti-poverty campaigners who have joined us here today in Stormont and online to listen to our debates as we talk about ending the pain of poverty that is inflicted on and endured by so many of our constituents across the North.

I could speak passionately all day about the housing crisis. I really am grateful that the Minister is here, because he will be familiar with the wider Coleraine area and the huge, significant challenges facing housing in that area. Across my constituency, thousands of people wait every day for a fit-for-purpose house. It genuinely makes me outraged that mothers, fathers, parents, guardians and families of all sizes are left in overcrowded houses with their children, who often have complex or special needs and physical disabilities, and are forced to live and eat in living rooms and sleep on sofas. It truly is shocking and absolutely unacceptable.

No-fault evictions have contributed to significant stress on families, who are suddenly left with just weeks to find an available new home when they are few and far between. Of the few houses that do exist, constituents cannot afford or are priced out of living in them. Even the Conservative MP Michael Gove has recognised the impact and is seeking to change the legislation.

Over 46,000 people are waiting for a home in Northern Ireland. We must immediately build and expand social housing in our communities. Every week in my constituency — from Limavady to Portrush and from Dungiven to Feeny, Claudy and beyond — it feels as though we continue to lose private rentals for families in those areas who desperately need them and desperately need somewhere to live.

Photo of Cara Hunter Cara Hunter Social Democratic and Labour Party

Not at this point, because I am stuck for time. Sorry.

The lack of available social housing and private rentals undeniably means that there is an increase in prices, and people have to compete just to have a roof over their head.

Real estate agents across the north coast have sent me emails of great concern. They have never seen pressure like it or such a challenging issue. Hardly any rentals are available on the north coast, and so many are competing for them. That has seen some landlords strive to profiteer. For some, the impact of that has been young mothers evicted with a short turnaround time. People are surviving, not thriving. As a Portrush resident, I see that so much. The people I grew up with have been priced out of returning to their childhood town. They cannot even aspire to live in Portrush, because houses to buy or rent simply do not exist, and the social housing lists last for years at a time. What does it mean when someone cannot access a home in the local community? It means a breakdown of community and support mechanisms. For example, young couples with one or two children have to move away from their families and do not get the support that they may need.

We need to be aware of why the housing crisis is happening and of the factors that worsen it. Second-home ownership, specifically on the north coast, is a massive issue that is only getting worse. It eats into the availability of local housing. It is crucial to raise that point today, and I am mindful that, in the Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council area, Portrush has anywhere between 16% and 24% of its housing as second homes and Portstewart has up to 23%. That is not sustainable for locals, and I would love to hear more feedback from the Department about whether it is mindful of that and how it is seeking to address the matter. Our constituents are entitled to safe, affordable and good accommodation. How can one have a stable life without having a stable and happy home?

I will draw attention to some of the important points that Members made. Ms Ferguson touched on the importance of ending no-fault evictions, and I welcome her work on the all-party group (APG) on homelessness, which has been strong on tackling the issue. Ms Armstrong and Mr Tennyson support the ban on no-fault evictions and praised Renter's Voice. Mr Nesbitt touched on landlords taking advantage of vulnerable tenants, and that is a very important point. He also said that tenants may avoid reporting repairs because they fear eviction. Mr Carroll ended with the important point that there is little protection if your landlord does not like you. Ultimately, it is important that that was raised during the debate, and that is why we tabled the motion.

We want to ban no-fault evictions entirely and with urgency, and, because of that, we will not support the DUP's amendment.

I am grateful that it looks as though two of our three motions will pass today, although I am saddened that some have been diluted by Executive parties, both today and yesterday. I will leave it to those parties to explain their position to their constituents. Again, I thank everyone for their contributions today. I appreciate it, and I hope that Members can support the motion.

Photo of John Blair John Blair Alliance

I thank the Member for concluding the debate.

Question, That the amendment be made, put and negatived.

Main Question put and agreed to. Resolved:

That this Assembly declares a housing crisis; expresses its concern that social housing waiting lists have almost doubled in the past 20 years, with a clear long-term trend towards longer waiting times; acknowledges the findings of the 2023 report by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on private rental affordability that median rent in Northern Ireland’s private rented sector accounts for 25% of household income; regrets that the loss of private rented accommodation continues to drive homelessness; and calls on the Minister for Communities to provide an immediate update on the housing supply strategy and bring forward legislation to ban no-fault evictions in Northern Ireland.

Photo of John Blair John Blair Alliance

I ask Members to take their ease while we change the top Table.

(Mr Speaker in the Chair)