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Understanding Approaches to Tenant Participation in the Private Rented Sector in Northern Ireland

In the wake of the Grenfell disaster, tenant participation ‒ how tenants can influence a landlord’s activity ‒ has re-emerged as a key policy concern for the UK Government. Its attention has focused on the Social Rented Sector (SRS). However, with more households renting from private landlords, there have been calls for tenant participation to be extended in the Private Rented Sector (PRS), where historically, it has largely been confined to ‘bottom-up’ activism. This is the context within which the Department for Communities – part of the Northern Ireland Executive – commissioned the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence (CaCHE) to undertake a (small-scale and exploratory) study into the challenges associated with extending tenant participation in the PRS in Northern Ireland, where almost one in five households live in the sector. The study comprised: a ‘rapid’ literature review; in-depth interviews with representatives of key ‘stakeholder’ organisations; a ‘focus group’ with tenants involved in a Northern-Ireland based collective tenant participation structure; and, an interactive ‘stakeholder’ engagement event.

Key findings of the study include:

  • Research participants recognised the potential advantages of extending tenant participation in the PRS, including: better policy and decision-making for Government; ‘smoother’ tenancies; improved mental health and greater agency for tenants; and, increased yields for landlords.
  • There are a number of significant barriers to extending tenant participation, which include: the absence of any regulatory requirement for private landlords to engage with their tenants; high turnover within the PRS sector; and, the high proportion of small landlords (four fifths of all landlords in Northern Ireland own only one or two properties).
  • Nevertheless, the study made a number of practical recommendations that could facilitate a Government-led strategy for extending tenant participation in the PRS in Northern Ireland. These include: the importance of consulting with key stakeholders from across the sector; the need for adequate resourcing; the introduction of a ‘light-touch’ regulatory framework; and, the importance of ‘starting small’ and extending tenant participation incrementally over time.
  • Given that there is currently no regulatory requirement for landlords to engage with their tenants and the prevalence of small (often, ‘accidental’) landlords, attention should focus initially on extending collective tenant participation.
  • There is already an agency led tenant participation vehicle in place: Renters’ Voice. This initiative has a core group of tenants who regularly provide input and feedback on issues of general concern to private tenants and could be more formally convened as a PRS Policy Panel (like the Housing Policy Panel already in operation for the SRS).

Authors: Paul Hickman and Joe Frey


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Date: July 8, 2021 11:30 am

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